With medical school holidays narrowing, I decided to make the most of my last big university summer and travel somewhere I had never been before. This was quite a snap decision, but with some gentle persuasion from Work the World, I was soon destined for Batangas in the Philippines! My main reasons for choosing Batangas were the wide range of specialities available and the prospect of lots of surgical exposure.
Arrival to the Philippines was very smooth although tiring considering the hours of travel. Once on the ground, I was met at the airport by a member of the in-country team and taken to the Work the World house. During the journey, the verbal induction was very informative as it gave me a better understanding of things to come, above and beyond what was said during the phone calls leading up to departure.
Arriving at the house was another joy, with lots of housemates to meet and food to be eaten. During the tour of the house, it became apparent that the house was very spacious and comfortable (although acclimatisation to the temperature would take time!)
My first day happened to be a bank holiday, so the entire house decided to scale the ‘Taal’ — the local volcano. This was a bit of a double-edged sword as it was a great way to get to know my new house mates, but due to my lack of acclimatisation I sweat out my body weight walking up the to the top! In hindsight, getting one of the horses up may have been more comfortable. At the top, the views were spectacular and our group also managed to get featured on a local travel show!
My first day in the local hospital was very interesting and everyone was so welcoming. The surgical team is very large at Batangas and cover most specialties. They were keen to get me involved. After the morning flag ceremony, I was straight into a round covering most surgical patients in the hospital.
All the medical staff are very competent in English, and where they slipped into the local dialect they were quick to translate. I wanted to get involved in theatre as much as possible, so I headed there in the afternoon. Within 10 minutes, I found myself in theatre during an abdominal skin graft — what a first day!
My first day far exceeded my expectations and this largely continued throughout my time in the surgical department. Theatres were another inclusive environment where inquisitiveness was rewarded with unique experiences. The more you show interest the more you get to do. Compared to the UK, much of the surgical department in the hospital is unfortunately not well-equipped, but what they do have they use very resourcefully. Mondays and Fridays were reserved for general surgery and Tuesday through to Thursday was reserved for subspecialties such as neurosurgery, urology, plastic surgery, head and neck surgery, paediatric surgery, and orthopaedic surgery - all of which I got to be involved in.
I managed to thoroughly immerse myself in all specialities at varying levels of surgical assistance. Orthopaedic surgery was by far the most engaging, allowing me to be involved in the surgical team and fully assist in procedures such as ORIF and elastic nailing. Other notable procedures in which I assisted were cerebral aneurysm clipping, cervical spine decompression and removal of large GIST. With my particular interest being neuro, this was a great centre to be exposed to a growing and developing department with a large patient base.
As well as theatre exposure, there were plenty of opportunities to experience all the facets of surgery in other departments like ER (A&E), outpatients and on the wards. The best cases were always the ones which you managed to see through their whole story, from admission to discharge.
Outside of placement, Batangas has a lot to keep you occupied with. During the week if you enjoy looking after your wellbeing as I do, there are gyms to keep your health in check. If you’re feeling indulgent, get a massage for less than £5 for an hour. Very close to the house, there’s also a large shopping centre full of home comforts, or for a more authentic Filipino shopping experience there are markets close by.
During the weekends, there are many places you can head to. I managed to find time for a range of activities, and travel to a number of exciting places. Activities included diving, snorkelling, swimming, and canoeing. The beaches in the area are very beautiful and the nightlife in the Batangas region is diverse. I went away to places like Anilao and Puerto Galera, which were very relaxing.
Considering that when I went to Batangas the programme was in its infancy, it was a testament to the World the World service that the placement far exceeded my expectations. The support around the programme was without error. I can particularly recommend this placement for anyone who is interested in surgery, as the experience I gained in Batangas was unique and very insightful.
Work the World have been faultless during the placement showing themselves to be very accommodating and flexible to changing circumstances. The programme team are very knowledgeable and have great insight into the local area. From choices of food to placement details they are very keen to tailor your time with them.
The food was another excellent facet with our in-house chef providing diverse, high quality food that catered to all that were there. Additionally, the other members of the house team were fun to interact with and made you feel safe and secure. Lastly, the staff are keen to have your feedback so that they can continually improve their methods and placements.