The study and practice of medicine is an increasingly global pursuit – and experience abroad is a crucial component of any young doctor’s training. In our increasingly interconnected world, improving these links is vital to better healthcare, improved knowledge, and patient outcomes. This May, our 2016 Clinical Placement Competition came to a close. In partnership with Projects Abroad, we offered one lucky medical student the chance to practice their clinical skills, with £2,000 towards a clinical placement in a country of their choice.
We asked entrants to send a photograph with a caption, explaining “What does being a doctor mean to you?” From over 100 submissions, we are proud to announce that this year’s winner is Iona Maxwell. Iona impressed the judging panel with her well-framed and eye catching image, which really captured the challenges, adversities, as well as opportunities for innovation and adventure – faced by modern medics. We caught up with Iona, to find out more about her aspirations in medicine.
Can you tell us some more about your winning photograph?
This photo was taken in the remote village of Rio Cana, Panama, last summer. I was working with an amazing charity – Floating Doctors – that provides basic medical care to the people of Panama, who otherwise have very limited access to healthcare. Each day we packed up our ‘cayuco’ or canoe with our basic pharmacy and diagnostic kit and headed out to a different village where we set up a clinic, and saw whoever wanted to be seen. We usually would end up with a queue of locals around the block waiting to see one of our team. The team was made up of volunteer medical students, doctors, nurses, and some volunteers with no medical experience but excellent Spanish, who could help us with translating.
You really are back to basics when working in such a remote setting, and a child comes in with symptoms of asthma – unable to play football with his friends without starting to wheeze. We had some inhalers in the pharmacy box but no spacers, so another volunteer cleaned out a plastic bottle and cut it into shape to fit perfectly around the inhaler. Using a spacer optimizes delivery of the drug to the lungs, and makes it a bit easier to use for younger children. Obviously his friends immediately all gathered around and wanted one for themselves!
You state that being a doctor means ‘working with what you’ve got’ – can you expand on that?
Being a doctor is all about assessing the patient in front of you, and then doing the best you can to alleviate their symptoms and cure their disease if possible. In the Western world we have access to incredible diagnostic equipment and advanced medicines, but once you strip all that away you are left with the most basic equipment – your eyes, ears, hands, and if you’re lucky a stethoscope and some medicines. We had a box of inhalers but this young patient would have struggled to use them correctly, so using the only material available to us we came up with a solution to help him out – a plastic bottle. This thought process still applies in the most developed countries – what simple things can we do as doctors to help the patient sitting in front of us – how can we best work with what we’ve got?
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m 25 and am now a final year medical student at Southampton University, currently on placement on the Isle of Wight. My parents live in Eastbourne with our two border terriers and I have two lovely sisters. I’ve been involved with the medical society at university, and last year I was Medsoc President – the best part of which was organising our annual Medics Ball. When I’m not on placement I play mixed hockey and love to travel.
What drew you to medicine?
I actually initially went to university to read Classics – but after a year I decided it was Medicine that I wanted to do. I love languages and so studying classics seemed a good choice, but I realised I had no idea what I would have done with that degree and more and more wanted to be doing a course like medicine. Hopefully it will be such a fulfilling and rewarding career, and the options within it are endless.
Do you have any advice for those starting out?
Get as much experience as you can – both of what doctors do day to day, but also what goes on behind the scenes. It’s a long old slog, so make sure it is what you want to do before you sign up – and remember there is a lot of flexibility within it, so keep an open mind!
Where are you planning to take your placement, and what are you hoping to achieve?
I’m hoping to maybe go to Tanzania or Nepal – I’m lucky to have been able to travel around Central and South America and South East Asia already, so Nepal was next on my list but the placements in Tanzania look amazing too! I’ve worked on medical placements in Vietnam and Panama so I’m hoping to further my knowledge of how medical systems work in different countries, and perhaps get some experience with conditions that we might not see in the United Kingdom.
Aside from traveling for clinical placements, where would you most like to travel to – and why?
I am lucky enough to have traveled to all of the continents except Antarctica so that is top of my list! I’d also love to go North and see the northern lights.
Featured Image Credit: ‘Fiji, Beach, Sand’ by tpsdave. CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay.