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Part 2 of Learning through seeing and doing


Posted by Amy Westman, MD (a third year pediatric resident from Kaiser Permanente Oakland in preparation for a global health elective in Ocho Rios, Jamaica with Issa Trust Foundation.

One piece of advice for anyone else going there to work, is to really brush up on your IV placement and blood drawing skills if it’s not one of your strongest areas. I have never really been very good at placing IVs in small children. While my pediatric program of course has requirements and time built into our training so that we learn how to do this, there has never been much pressure to get really good at it, since there is always a nurse or phlebotomist to do these things for you. Since I don’t naturally love putting in IVs like some other residents, I haven’t perfected the skill. In Jamaica, however, the doctors draw all of the blood and place all the IVs, so I’ve actually gotten much better by necessity! I was also surprised to learn, that the GPs here, although I knew they saw all ages, actually do some surgeries as well. One doctor at Port Maria said he will do “simple” procedures like appendectomies or inguinal hernia repairs himself, but prefers to only assist on more difficult operations like a biliary atresia repair. He has of course received specific training in surgery as part of his medical training, but I was impressed. At least I can do my own I&Ds and laceration repairs!

The rotation was challenging at times, and looking back it seems that the first and last weeks were the toughest. The first week, of course, because I was getting used to how to treat patients in a different medical system. The last partly because I was, by that time, feeling homesick. The other difficulty was brought on by a discussion I had the end of my 3rd week with Dr. Ramos and I had some realizations about things I had been experiencing that for a while made me feel somewhat depressed. I had grown used to patients and their parents answering everything I said with “Yes Miss.” I tried my best to give education and explanations at the end of each visit and always ended with, “Do you have any questions?” Very rarely would anyone actually ask a question, and most times they would respond with a little giggle or chuckle, followed by “No.” I told this to Dr. Ramos, and he replied, “Well how can they ask a question when they didn’t understand anything you just said.” Excellent point. Even at home, at times it is difficult to explain to a parent what is going on with their child in terms they fully understand, trying to find the words in lay terms while trying to provide necessary education. But in Jamaica, one also has to deal with a language barrier. Even though I had gotten better at understanding the mix of usually broken English and Patwa that most people speak, I also had to ask them when I don’t understand. Could they repeat, or tell me in a different way. But rarely would a parent ask me to do the same. I shouldn’t have assumed they could understand my English. I came to realize that just because they did not have questions or nodded their heads and said, “Yes Miss,” in a lot of cases it probably had nothing to do with whether they actually understood or not. What a doctor says goes, and most Jamaicans would never speak up to say they couldn’t understand me. There is also another aspect, it seems that a lot of time the people just don’t listen to what you say. I would be asked a question, and then as I proceeded to answer they would either start talking about something else, or a few times even got up to leave the office. Anyway, after I realized all this about 3 weeks into my time here, I felt a bit helpless, wondered how much good I had been doing besides just writing a prescription when needed. When a mother comes in with her baby worried because that baby is having reflux (that is not in need of medication), the whole key is helping her to understand what is happening to her baby and why and when it will get better. That is whole point of reassurance, education is the biggest part of it, knowing what is “normal” and what is cause for concern. But after a couple days, I just accepted that this is part of learning and part of working in an unfamiliar culture. It has been an amazing learning opportunity. I hope I can take this experience and become a better listener and a better educator for all people. It has been a very important lesson for me.

Overall, I hope that this whole experience will make me a better clinician in all aspects, as well as improve my cultural competence. I am truly grateful for the opportunity!

I encourage other physicians to take advantage of this opportunity as well. The Issa Trust Foundation has room for 2 physicians here all year round! It would so wonderful if there were always pediatricians there, a consistent presence to serve the children here so they receive appropriate follow-up and care. You will be challenged, you will have fun, and you will leave feeling rewarded. The accommodations here are out of this world! When you have off time, which is every night and the weekends, it is wonderful to be at Tower Isle where you always have great food and entertainment, and can always relax on the beach and read a book, as I so often did after work. There are many opportunities for trips outside the resort if you wish to join them. Please, take advantage of this exciting opportunity to become a better clinician while helping the children of St. Mary and Portland!

So a HUGE thank you to everyone at the Issa Trust Foundation, all the many physicians and nurses I had the pleasure of working with in Jamaica, and to Kaiser Permanente for allowing me the time to have this experience! I plan on returning soon . . .

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