I have always wanted to volunteer abroad, but I did not know that signing up to volunteer in a hospital in the Philippines would change my life in the numerous ways that it did. I am 20 years old and currently studying to become a physician assistant, but in America there is little opportunity to work alongside doctors and nurses in their daily routines. In hopes to expand upon my developing knowledge of medicine, I signed up with Projects Abroad to travel to the Philippines and to work there in a hospital for four weeks during my winter break.
Host family in the Philippines
Upon arrival I was immediately greeted by the Projects Abroad staff that put me at ease and made me feel right at home. They then took me to Bogo City where I would spend the next four weeks living with my host family and working in Severro Verallo Memorial District Hospital.
When we pulled up to the house I was greeted by welcoming smiles and hugs from the entire family. My host mother was an older lady who lived with her daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren. All of the family members spoke English very well, making communication easy from the start. I greatly enjoyed the close family ties and how we ate all meals together and spent the nights sharing stories, watching TV or playing games.
Despite their lack of Western style luxuries, their house felt just like home. It took me a few days to get used to flushing a Philippino style toilet (with a bucket and scoop rather than an automatic flush), cold showers and the lack of air conditioning. Since cars are not abundant in Bogo, many people use motorbikes or ‘trikes’ to get from one place to another. A trike is a motorbike with a side carriage attached; they functioned like taxis and were very plentiful, as many Philippino families cannot afford their own mode of transportation.
Medicine project in the Philippines
I was aware that the Philippines was a developing country with little to no medical advancements, but I still had no idea what to expect in the hospital. The doctors and nurses were all excited to share their day to day dynamic with me and I was eager to learn from them. Normally when I arrived in the morning I would assist nurses, doctors or fellow volunteers on rounds. During rounds we visited each patient in the hospital and took their temperature and blood pressure. These readings were then documented in a journal and then later copied into the patient’s chart, as nothing here was done electronically.
Nurses in the Philippines spent a large part of their day filling out charts and paperwork for each patient, leaving only a small amount of time for direct patient care. In the Philippines the family is responsible for caring for their sick relative rather than the nurses, which differs tremendously from what I am used to in America. This was largely due to the lack of technology present in the hospital and the fact that they had to do everything themselves and by hand.
On a day-to-day basis I would visit various parts of the hospital, such as the emergency room, delivery room and the laboratory. The emergency room was compromised of just three beds and a small office space for the nurses. When patients came in they would sometimes be in one of the beds, but often times they would be directed to a bed in the hallway until there was room for them in the emergency room.
The delivery room also held three beds and was normally full as deliveries were one of the main things occurring in the hospital. One of the most memorable things I did during my volunteer experience was helping the nurse to deliver a baby. It was something I have never experienced before and would not have been able to do at this point in my life in America. In the laboratory, the other volunteers and I learned how to run blood samples through the computer, which gave us cell counts- helping to diagnose the patient. We also did blood typing when the patient was unsure of his/her blood type.
All in all I had many life changing experiences in the hospital and expanded upon my current medical knowledge, learning things that I can bring back to America and help me tremendously. To be able to have had these experiences before I even graduate college is amazing and I am certain that I want to pursue a career in medicine.
Free time in the Philippines
While working took up a majority of my time in the Philippines, I made the most of my weekends and travelled to nearby beaches and tourists attractions with my fellow volunteers. I was able to visit Bantayan Island, Malapascua Island and Bohol Island in my short four weeks. During my weekends away I saw various beautiful beaches, see Bohol’s famous tarzier and chocolate hills, go snorkelling and a variety of other fun activities. Travel is very easy here since the Philippines is comprised of thousands of small islands so travelling to a beautiful beach was just a short bus or ferry ride away.
Looking back on my time spent in the Philippines I would not have changed anything about my stay. From the volunteers that I travelled with, to the amazing staff in the hospital and my incredible host family my four weeks here were nothing short of exceptional. I will forever remember my ride home to the airport; I couldn’t stop crying because I could not believe that I had to leave this beautiful place and all of the friends that I made along the way. I will forever be grateful for this experience and how it confirmed in every way that I am eager to begin a career in medicine.
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