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Students benefit from regional awards for medical placements overseas

Two Oxford medical students have embarked upon ‘inspirational’ medical placements on the African continent and in Central America this summer, thanks to a new regional bursary scheme.

Local alumni group OUS Cornwall has offered grants for the past five years to help Cornish students to help fund summer projects associated with their studies.

However, this year the group extended the scheme to include an additional bursary to fund a medical elective abroad for medical students with strong connections to Cornwall.

Robin Jones undertook a ten-week medical elective in Ghana followed by Tanzania, which gave him a fascinating insight into medicine in a developing country and the many challenges that brings.

His first five weeks were a mixture of general medicine, paediatrics, and obstetrics in a government hospital in the rural mountains of Ghana.

‘We found that the doctors were excellently trained and knew everything that had to be done for a patient but they struggled every day due to the lack of resources,’ he said.

‘For instance, our doctor knew all the steps in the investigation and management of multiple sclerosis in a lady who presented with weakness, but she couldn’t afford the first-line investigation so there was nothing he could do.

‘It is a real cliché but being in a resource poor country really does make you proud of the NHS.’

The remainder of Robin’s placement was spent in a Tanzanian referral hospital with the HIV/AIDs team. Tanzania has a HIV prevalence of five percent, so the disease has a significant impact on the hospital.

‘In recent years, there has been investment in the AIDs and HIV service and we were impressed by the doctors in the team,’ Robin said.

‘Despite positive changes, the impact of HIV and AIDs on the wards is immense and we saw clinical signs that would be incredibly rare in the UK.’

Alongside medicine, Robin also had the opportunity to travel around the two countries, meet the locals and indulge in mouth-watering local food.

‘I am incredibly grateful to OUS Cornwall for their support of my elective,’ he said.

Meanwhile, fellow medical student Bethany Kingston undertook medical placements in Belize and South Africa which gave her insights into medicine in developing countries with different cultures.

Her bursary helped pay for accommodation in South Africa and part of her airfare.

The objectives of her placements were twofold - to enhance her clinical skills and knowledge and expand her appreciation of medicine, in particular the impact of different cultures on patient-doctor interactions.

Her work in the emergency department in Belize enabled improvement of clinical skills, such as suturing, while family practice clinics demonstrated the public health problems affecting the Garifuna, Mayan and Amish people inhabiting the local area.

‘In South Africa I witnessed a large diversity of pathology, expanding my clinical acumen beyond what I could have hoped for,’ she said.

‘I also saw how Zulu culture affects healthcare, with many patients choosing traditional healing, or combinations of this and more familiar medical therapies. 

‘My elective was an incredible experience, opening my eyes to global health inequalities and inspiring me to work abroad in future and I’m very grateful to OUS Cornwall for their support which enabled this.’

To find out more about OUS Cornwall’s bursary scheme and other regional groups offering bursaries please visit the Student Awards page.