Tuesday, 27 August 2013


aka an idiosyncratic journey on planning my elective

The more years I spent in medical school the less I know what I really wanted to specialise in - perhaps because I am a generalist at heart - The big picture interests me and everyone (young or old, the alive or the deceased) does too. At the same time I am also intrigued by the small details and the origin of things  - so naturally Infectious Diseases (ID) becomes a speciality of choice that encompasses most if not all the above qualities. Another speciality that I am interested in would be primary care/population health, so I am still trying to decide on which; but of course there are always ways to reconcile both.

I started thinking about where to go for elective in summer 2012, after I got back from a week of medical expedition in southern Yunnan, China with the charity Operation Smile. Working in a rural hospital alongside with doctors around the world has become something that I would like to continue during my much longer medical elective. I would also like to go and live somewhere more unusual but safe enough on my own - and since I have always been interested in South East Asia, it has become my naturally inclined option (instead of South America or Africa). I sent out a few emails here and there with some favourable replies, but being back in London I got carried away by things and the matter of elective sat back on the shelf for a while.

... Until one day I stumbled upon a Chinese blog by a journalist in Hong Kong who was in Hanoi on her own just to chill and write; the way she described Hanoi alongside with pictures of old streets lined with trees, the locals, the laid-back atmosphere, the neighbouring scenic and untamed countryside - I was completely sold and since then have an irresistible desire to live in this old city that has yet lost its lustre and charm.

Meanwhile, through people I've met and a few activities I was involved with during the past year of medical school has got me interested in the prospect of learning more about medical and translational research. Having both the destination and activity in mind I trolled the internet (the Elective Network and also the Lonely Planet, strangely enough, has been rather useful) and several email exchanges and lots of finger-crossing later, I am where I am now.

For the next six weeks I am at the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit (OUCRU) at the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases (NHTD), Hanoi. My main project here would be analysing data for the Vinares project - a 3-year study looking at the correlation of antibiotics use and varying pattern of antibiotics resistance in 16 hospitals in Vietnam - and preparing for its intermediate report for a national meeting in late October. I would also be helping out with other projects that happen in the centre, attending academic and project meetings, seeing patients (in A&E, wards and ITU) recruited in the projects and also venturing out to different places with various people who work here. Prior to the start of the elective I came out a week early to meet Chris, Martin and Bessie who are fellow medics travelling in Vietnam at the same time. We had a truly fantastic week and I could not have hoped for a better start to my time here.

Accomodation-wise I used the Hanoi's version of gumtree/craigslist - the New Hanonian - to have found a nice airy room (with my own balcony in which I am sitting now) located in a quiet alley and just five minutes walk to the hospital. My landlord is a young family living just next door and there are several expats living in the house as well (a French girl and Finnish guy downstairs, a paediatric cardiologist from the Philippines just opposite me)

And in eight weeks time I would have to be back at UCL to finish my final year of medical school. This all seems rather unreal right now...


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