Papua New Guinea: a medical placement

A few months ago, I sat in the office of my clinical school's Sub-Dean. Nervous as anything, I was interrogated. I had applied for a scholarship to spend a month of my summer holidays in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Two days later I received a phone call from that very same Sub-Dean. "Congratulations," she said, "we were impressed with your responses and we want to offer you the scholarship. That is, if you're still interested?" In a state of (non-medical) shock, I responded, "yes. Of course I wanted to go!"

During the application process, I had done much research into health and living conditions in PNG. I was often surprised to find myself thinking I really didn't know that. Even thought PNG is our nearest neighbour, I really knew nothing about it. This mountainous, beautiful, topographically unnavigable, culturally-rich nation just to our North was a complete mystery. I started conversations where I could. I tried to learn as much as possible. So close and yet so far from how we live in much of Australia.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some of what I'd learnt in this blog for work. I spoke there about the unexpectedly low health outcomes I'd found in my research...and I wondered why this wasn't something we saw constantly in mainstream media. Why was it that I knew so little about our nearest neighbour? Why had I never felt the urge to research further into it before, even though I often find myself looking up the histories of other nations?

Though I've done much reading since, I know that immersing myself in the experience will teach me far more than any book might. Learning Pidgin, talking to people about their experiences and spending time on the land will slowly unravel some of the complexities of the nation. I'm hoping to go with "open ears."

Faculty has asked us to bundle together any basic supplies we might be able find - suturing kits and the like - to stock up provisions in the hospitals in which we'll be helping out. I'm also hoping to take some iPhones (unfortunately Android is yet to carry many of the medical applications) to provide inexpensive  tools to help with diagnostics. If you have any advice on working in resource-poor settings, I'd love to hear it.

Until December, it's planning and preparing and studying for exams. I hope I'll be ready for PNG.


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