Medicine & Healthcare in Sri Lanka by Priyangi Jayasuriya
I have been coming to Sri Lanka almost every year since I can remember, but this is the first time I came for work rather than for a holiday. When I first found out that Projects Abroad had placements in Sri Lanka, I instantly decided that I had to join the programme. I decided to complete my medical internship at the Panadura Base Hospital and Kethumathi Maternity Hospital. Since I am Sri Lankan and am able to speak Sinhala fluently, I was confident that I could be an asset to the hospitals.
My first week was in the Paediatric unit, and it was very different from the hospitals back in the United States. I adjusted well to the environment and was surprised at how willing the doctors and medical students were to teach me about different diseases and how to do a full physical examination. I could never have gotten this type of experience in the US, with all the rules and regulations that the hospitals have to abide by.
I was even allowed to stand next to the surgeon in the operation theatre as she performed thyroidectomies. This particular Surgeon was so helpful that she went as far as to draw me a diagram of the throat and explain to me exactly where the nodule was that she was cutting out! Also, I was able help out another volunteer by translating to the patient as he tried to get their medical history.
Since my entire family is in Sri Lanka, I used the opportunity to stay with them in Homagama and commuted to Panadura every day. This trip is usually around an hour or an hour and fifteen minutes, but my driver always got me to the hospital in forty-five minutes.
I found that my favourite week at the hospital was Surgery because of all the hands on experience that I gained and even ended up staying longer at this unit. The medical students, who were preparing for an exam at the time, helped me as I got to practice using my stethoscope and taught me how to do physical examinations on as many patients as I could. During the last week of my placement, I also went to Kethumathi Maternity Hospital and learned about neonatal examinations and diagnosing patients.
I had many memorable moments at my placement but one that stands out above the rest was when I was in the Surgery unit at the Panadura Base Hospital. The medical students and I were doing our daily ward rounds, which usually consists of speaking with the patients and looking at their charts and practicing physical examinations. One day this elderly man and a terrible case of cellulitis from his knees all the way down. He was incredibly scared and didn’t understand why he always had a tube connected to him (the IV flow) and started crying while speaking to us. It made me tear as well but I sat and spoke with him for a little while and explained what the IV flow was and to not worry.
Another memory that I have is meeting Sajeetha, who was an eight year old paediatric patient. The first day I met Sajeetha, she looked exhausted and I immediately sat down with her mother to see what was wrong with her. It turned out that Sajeetha had congenital heart failure at such a young age. Although I could speak Sinhala, Sajeetha was Tamil and couldn’t understand some of what I said. But I went to visit her every single day of my placement even if I was assigned to a different unit that week. After a while she got used to me and started playing small games and would even smile. Being able to speak and comfort Sajeetha and the elderly man really made me realise even more how much being a doctor is exactly what I want to be in life. And I am so grateful to Projects Abroad for giving me this opportunity to learn new things and meet amazing people like Sajeetha.
My volunteer experience that I gained through my placement with Projects Abroad has definitely given me an advantage as I begin applying to medical schools. I was fortunate to receive a hands on opportunity that has helped me understand tropical medicine and different medical techniques. I would never have thought that I would have seen Dengue fever, Typhoid, and even TB firsthand.
General life in Sri Lanka is very different than in the United States. I am quite used to seeing this as I come every year, but my advice to future volunteers would be to embrace it and enjoy it, because your placement will be over before you know it. Once you get over your initial shock of how different things are, I think it becomes easier to be comfortable.
The staff at the hospitals are incredibly helpful and love it when you ask questions because it shows that you are eager to learn. I have always loved coming to Sri Lanka not only for the food, my family, and the atmosphere, but now the hospital as well. I look forward to returning and stopping in to say hello to all the new friends that I have made. This has been an amazing experience and I wish I could have stayed longer!