Akash Dharni is a former medical student from Leeds. He travelled to Merida in Mexico on a six-week medical elective placement to see the differences between healthcare in the UK and the developing world.
Here Akash shares his experiences of his placement.
I did quite a bit of research into where I wanted to travel for my medical elective. Because of the areas I’m interested in, Mexico seemed like a good choice. Conditions relating to the eye, for example, had a higher prevalence than many other countries.
A quick phone call with Work the World (the organisation through whom I planned my trip) answered any final questions I had. It was really handy, especially when I was stressed out during the pre-exam months! It was one less thing to think about.
Arriving in Merida was easy. Someone from the organisation met us at the airport and we got talking right away. We were travelling to our accommodation before I knew it. I met my housemates that evening over a delicious meal then, finally, went to bed.
I spent my five-week clinical placement in ophthalmology. Clinics were Monday to Wednesday, and I was in surgery Thursday and Friday mornings.
Mexico has a huge diabetes crisis, and with that comes a lot of eye conditions. Because of the healthcare system’s structure, patients who used the hospital got treatments either free or heavily discounted. However, many patients who needed the hospital made less than 100 Pesos per day. To give you some perspective, a basic eye ultrasound costs 800 Pesos.
Many patients waited for months, even years before attending the general clinic. In some cases irreparable damage had already been done.
The vaccination system in Mexico wasn’t terribly effective for those with lower socio economic status. I met one female patient who contracted rubella during her pregnancy. It resulted in her twin babies not only being born premature, but also with bilateral cataracts.
Newborn baby checks weren’t performed and so her diagnosis was made quite late. The ophthalmologist had to explain to the mother that the state wouldn’t cover both babies operations.
She had to choose which baby to operate on and which to delay until she could afford to pay. The surgeon explained to me that the mother had struggled to pay the 70 Peso bus journey, so the likelihood of her affording two cataract surgeries was incredibly slim.
This was one of many challenging neonatal cases I saw across my six-week placement.
Almost all of the ophthalmologists spoke great English, so communicating about patients and diagnoses wasn’t a problem.
Thanks to Work the World’s intensive Spanish course (and a top up with some language apps), I took basic patient histories. I examined them on the slit lamp and then presented back to the senior.
My placement introduced me to aspects of medicine I’d had very little experience of whilst studying in England.
Living with students from all over the world was great fun and I made some good friends. Comparing medicine and med school teaching from country to country was fascinating. As was getting to know everyone in the evenings and during weekend trips.
During the weekends, my housemates and I explored the Yucatan Peninsula. The bus system in Merida, and indeed across the Yucatan, was great. We travelled to Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Holbox, Valladolid, Uxmal, Ek-Balaam, Progresso, Rio Lagartos and Los Colorados, and multiple cenotes — an absolute must!
The bottom line? Mexico was incredible, and I will be talking about the experience for a long time to come.
Work the World specialises in tailoring overseas medical placements in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their destinations provide eye-opening insight into the challenges associated with delivering healthcare in the developing world.