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Student electives: From this world to the next

[Source: Leicester Warwick Medical School Newsletter]

On the evening of 12 March 2002, six students from the final-year class gave a presentation to a packed audience in the Clinical Education Centre at the Leicester Royal Infirmary. The evening was organised by Dr Joan Davies who supervised the student electives. The six presentations took the audience on a journey around the globe and into outer space (well, almost!).

The evening concluded with awards to all those who presented. The 1st prize went to Catherine Wayne, 2nd prize to Claire West and 3rd prize to Grant Wilde. 


Claire West, Kisiizi Hospital, Uganda:

"My elective was spent at Kisiizi Hospital, a mission hospital in Uganda. I spent seven weeks living and working in this busy hospital community situated in a lush green valley in the south-west corner of this amazingly beautiful, but unbelievably poor, country.

"The day starts at 8am in the chapel when all the staff, from the Medical Superintendent down to the labourers from the building site, together with many of the patients and relatives, come together in the chapel for morning prayers. A busy day covered medical and surgical wards as well as outpatients.

"On the medical ward there were several patients with mental health problems. Mental health has not been regarded as a priority area for the government, with a limited number of drugs available. The drugs are very expensive and as a result patients frequently default. Anti-depressants were often given at sub-therapeutic doses and rarely for more than a few weeks. The stigma faced by patients with mental health problems is significant. It was hard for an 'outsider' to understand some aspects of the mental illness suffered by Ugandans, as in many ways their culture is very different from ours.

'Death seemed to be accepted in a way I had never seen before. Ugandan people grow up almost surrounded by death...' Claire West

"Working on the isolation ward was possibly the most challenging part of my elective, both intellectually and emotionally, in dealing with very sick patients, many of whom were only a few years older than me. Nothing could have prepared me for looking after the patients with AIDS, TB and other infectious illnesses.

"Death seemed to be accepted in a way I had never seen before. Ugandan people must grow up almost surrounded by death. Perhaps for this reason, and also because they have so little in terms of material possessions, many Ugandans have a very vibrant Christian faith. They have so little in this life that they can think clearly about the afterlife. 

infant patient

"My elective was immensely enjoyable, but also very challenging. I felt privileged to gain an insight into the lives of people from a country so different from my own, and work in a team so dedicated to relieving suffering that we in the West can forget so easily."

Catherine Wayne, Washington, September 2001:

"As a Cadetship Officer with the Royal Air Force (RAF) I chose to do my elective within the armed forces. Following a three-week placement at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, I then went on a four-week Military Contingency Medicine course in Washington, USA.

"The course consisted of a three-day ATLS teaching with assessment followed by a three-week Military Contingency Medicine portion. Our skills were then tested in a three-day 'Bushmaster' exercise. The Bushmaster motto was 'Good Medicine in Bad Places' and this was the most feared part of the course. 

'On 11 September 2001 lectures began as usual...' Catherine Wayne

"On 11 September 2001 lectures began, as usual at 7.30am. However, the morning was interrupted by our instructor’s emergency pager. The message was relayed to us that an aircraft had struck the World Trade Centre in New York. Our lecturers, all trauma surgeons, were the military rapid response team and deployed immediately by helicopter to the area. Some went directly to New York while others went to the Pentagon once news broke that it also had been hit by a hijacked aircraft.

"Classes were abandoned and many students whose families worked in the Pentagon tried to find out more information. At this time there were still aircraft unaccounted for in the air above us and, as a military installation, we were a potential target for terrorism. A decision was made for us, the senior year, to become operational. My initial thoughts of wanting to be safe gave way to feelings of wanting to use my skills, however basic they are, in order to help those needing medical care, was asked to organise a triage area in the cafeteria in case of patient overflow from the Washington area. Our area was actually not used as few casualties were brought out of the Pentagon requiring medical attention. The next day our lecturers described the scene they faced at the sites and how they had worked throughout the night alongside the other emergency services.

"The aims of the 'Bushmaster' exercise were to place the ultimate stress on us when based in a field hospital by way of 16-hour shifts, mass casualties, constant enemy threat and moral issues of triage. Qualities of leadership and team skill were evaluated by those who do it for real. I learnt that a Military doctor is no different from any other. The same qualities of knowledge, empathy, practical skill and compassion are all needed along with the versatility of working in hostile environments." Catherine Wayne on placement
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS: Catherine Wayne on duty in a field hospital

Vishal Nangalia, Space Medicine with the European Space Agency:

"I spent my elective working at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, which, as its name implies, is the lead ESA division concerned with human space flight.

"While at the centre I was involved in helping other flight surgeons collate data to help answer specific questions. One of these was to help formulate the required parameters for mapping out the radiation environment inside the soon-to-be launched European Columbus module for the International Space Station.

"However my main project was to try and devise an overall approach to space medicine. This involved looking at the changes to the human body in the altered gravity of space as a normal physiological reaction to stimuli and not a pathological state. I also looked at ways to enable the body to re-adapt to earth-like gravity more easily on return, by stressing the human body in specific ways, while in zero-G. Vashal Nangalia
SPACE TO LEARN: Vishal Nangalia

"I later considered the concept of a second-generation countermeasure to these very adaptations. This was the 'Vibrating Penguin Suit'. The penguin suit was first developed by the Russians in the late 1960s and consisted of a jumpsuit with bungee chords to simulate the loads on the postural muscle groups that gravity provides on Earth.

"Overall my time at the European Space Agency was enlightening, exhilarating and frankly amazing. I was involved with something that one normally only sees on TV and imagines – literally – to be a world away. I plan to pursue space medicine as my career and to be part of this great adventure – and, who knows, even one day to 'boldly go where no man has gone before'."

November 2002

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Last updated: 5 November 2002 15:32
Created by: Rachel Tunstall

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