The idea of undertaking a placement abroad hadn’t entered my mind before discovering Work the World.
As soon as I’d browsed the Work the World website, and enthusiastically read dozens of reviews on Facebook, I picked up the phone to speak to them.
The fact that Work the World’s placements were often in low-resource hospitals in developing countries cemented my decision to travel with them. After all, few pharmacists can say they have insight into how the discipline is practised overseas, let alone in a low-resource setting.
In the end, Sri Lanka’s religious and cultural history won me over, so I chose Anuradhapura. The clinical placement was based in the third largest hospital in the country, with many niches of pharmacy to observe and get involved in—another huge plus.
Work the World’s online placement planner (MyTrip) was a great resource. The information pack that it featured was comprehensive. It covered everything from pre-departure requirements to what I should expect during my placement. It also offered loads of information about Sri Lankan culture.
It also let me the view the Anuradhapura house, the staff, and the housemates I’d be living with. This was uniquely helpful as I wanted to know how many other pharmacy students would be in the house at the same time as me.
Work the World were very active in preparing me for my placement. My pre-departure experience consisted of plenty of preparatory emails and phone calls from the team. They were punctual and professional, yet personal in answering my questions.
They thoroughly prepared me for the trip, offering deep insight into what I was going to experience. With the combination of MyTrip and my communication from the UK staff, I felt totally prepared.
After arriving at Colombo airport, I went through immigration, customs and then into the arrivals area.
The local Work the World team were there waiting for me. After a very warm welcome, the team took me to a local hotel so that I could rest until the other new students’ flights landed.
The whole arrival process was was totally painless thanks to the staff who had everything perfectly prepared.
Later that day, when everyone had all arrived, the team took us to a local restaurant for lunch.
After the meal, we took a three-hour taxi journey through the Sri Lankan countryside to the Work the World house. I enjoyed every minute of the ride, and was surprised by the lack of stoplights!
The staff at the Anuradhapura house were amazing. They answered all of my questions and promptly rectified any problems or concerns. They were available 24/7 and went above and beyond to make sure we were all happy.
Every Wednesday, the staff hosted a BBQ night, serving a variety of local dishes. I always looked forward to the BBQ because it was a great opportunity to socialize with my housemates.
At my request, Work the World spread my placement across various areas within the hospital. I spent time in the Renal Pharmacy, Outpatient Pharmacy, Surgical Theater, Medical Ward and the Compounding Reconstitution Unit.
The hospital staff explained to me that the hospital was a government facility that provided free healthcare to all patients. However, thanks to fiscal constraints, many medications were imported from India due to their low cost. Branded medicines were rarely used, if ever.
Due to the uniqueness of the local diet, lifestyle, common diseases, and genetics, I found myself researching information on drugs for things like acute kidney failure, mental health conditions and fevers caused by local bacteria.
Contrary to what I was used to, Sri Lankan pharmacists were not isolated to merely administration, patient service and dispensing drugs. This was in part due to the patient information and drug inventory record keeping systems; rather than using electronic databases, local staff relied on handwritten notebooks.
I often assisted with dispensing drugs, and learned that local pharmacists had to dispense and inventory drugs, catalogue patient information, and verify the drug with the consultants recommendations. Thus was a stark contrast to ‘Western-style’ healthcare where pharmacists are involved in more clinical applications of medicine, leaving the administration to the technicians.
When looking at the healthcare system in Sri Lanka compared to the ones found in further-developed countries, it was clear that there were many cultural differences affecting practice. Two of the most striking differences were that there were less regulations around patient privacy, and that there was a strict etiquette regarding staff rank within the hospital hierarchy.
Routine surgeries often had two patients in one theater, for example. And consultations around a patient’s treatment were discussed within hearing distance of other patients.
Speaking in terms of the hierarchy, consultants in Sri Lanka were practically venerated. They were afforded great privilege and attention by fellow staff because of their extensive training and expertise. Subordinates followed consultants’ recommendations without question, and always stood to attention when consultants entered the room.
I spent my final week in on the Work the World Ayurvedic Experience learning about traditional Sri Lanka medicine. I discovered that this ancient approach to healthcare was so deeply ingrained in Sri Lankan culture that in rural areas, people sought care from their local Ayurvedic clinic rather than a hospital.
During the village week, I observed the doctor assessing patients and assisted in applying natural medicine to patients. I also learned a lot about how the different local tree barks and leaves were processed to make the medicine. The experience was eye opening because my knowledge of this kind of traditional medicine was limited up until then.
After placement each day, and at weekends, my housemates and I planned trips to lots of different places around Sri Lanka. The country had such a rich history and culture, so we had plenty to choose from.
My favorite afternoon trip was to the Sigiriya Rock fortress. The structure was massive with various areas to explore, and the view from the top was breathtaking. I visited many beaches during my stay in Sri Lanka, but Arugam Bay was my favourite because of the pristine beach and amazing areas to relax.
I have no regrets regarding my placement in Sri Lanka, and emphatically recommend that you plan your placement there with Work the World like I did.