Most medical students at the University of Calgary are doing their summer elective in Calgary, or at least within Canada. I’ve chosen to do mine in Tanzania, a place I’ve never been before and don’t know much about.
Few medical schools require students to do a summer elective before the traditional 3rd year clerkship, so Calgary is unique in that way. I’m glad to have the chance to get some hands-on clinical experience after spending almost a full year in the classroom but even now I feel barely competent enough to put a band-aid on another person and maybe do a shoulder exam – and even then I might first watch an instructional video on YouTube.
At the end of the day, I’m a hands-on learner and I probably won’t really absorb anything till I’ve seen it in the flesh, and I’ll never feel ready for anything by just reading textbooks. When choosing an elective, I wanted to go somewhere exotic on the other side of the world, and I was delighted that a doctor in Tanzania was willing to work with me.
I honestly don’t know what to expect for the next 4 weeks. Details have been slim on exactly what we’ll doing except that we’ll get experience in all the various departments of Dar Es Salaam’s government hospitals. As far as I can tell, most of the patients won’t speak much English. I don’t even know my doctor boss’s first name, as he’s only ever signed emails with the cryptic abbreviation “LT.”
As my flight approached, I suffered from a terrible case of pre-departure anxiety. The last few days of shopping and packing were overwhelming, and on many occasions I stared wistfully at all my creature comforts, wishing I did an elective closer to home.
Getting all my medical supplies and equipment for a Kilimanjaro ascent into one suitcase felt like trying to play an impossible Tetris level. Somehow I managed to get everything to fit but my suitcase looked like I was trying to smuggle a baby elephant. I could really relate to this scene from the Simpsons:
Mindful of my 50 lbs per checked bag allowance, I weighed my bathroom scale and it clocked in at a whopping 57.5 lbs. I braced myself for an argument with the check-in agent at the airport…
At the airport, the check-in agent asked me to place my bag on the scale… I obliged, ready to bring out the “but I’m going to Africa on a medical mission” sympathy speech. Magically, the bag only weighed 49.4 lbs on the airport scale. Does that mean my bathroom scale is off, and I’m not really as heavy as it says I am?