I had the fortune of being chosen for the Bicol Clinic Foundation 2016 trip to the Bicol province of the Philippines. I vividly remember jumping in joy and sprinting around my house like a child after receiving the email – this was going to be the first time I went back to Asia since immigrating to North America nearly 15 years prior. Little did I know, this trip would be much more than a chance to polish my newly-acquired clinical skills in the continent I missed so dearly – it would influence the very residency I would apply to at the end of medical school.
The 2,000 patients that we saw over the course of the month were the densest teachers I could have hoped to learn from. Even if I didn’t interact with them directly, I would learn from their complex pathology when all the medical students shared their cases every night at dinner. This served to be an incredible source of inspiration for reading. The growing pains of completing histories and physical examinations with the aide of a Tagalog translator were quickly shed as we racked up patient care hours. In retrospect, the diversity of the clinical sites I had the opportunity to work in was truly stunning in light of the fact that we were seemingly “confined” to one building; I performed triage, spent time in the pharmacy dispensing medications, provided wound care, performed minor surgical procedures, and completed dozens of H&P’s. We even did some volunteer work at a correctional facility in Sorsogon for an entire day and were invited aboard the USNS Mercy, further adding to the breadth of our clinical sites. Working with an interdisciplinary, international team of physicians and translators served to be a useful lesson in teamwork as well!
The Filipino people are truly special. The patients exhibited levels of gratitude that moved me to my core. I will never forget the patient who stopped me on my morning walk at 6:30am during the third week of the mission trip to thank me for everything that we were doing with tears streaming down his face; he said he had journeyed from a secluded island that was literally hundreds of miles away because he heard the “good doctors had finally come”. He had previously seen many physicians without a diagnosis but said that one of our Nepalese doctors he had seen a few days ago had provided him with a diagnosis and medication for his condition in the first visit. For the first time in many months, he felt hopeful. I admittedly had to stifle my own tears as he then excitedly exclaimed that he had returned with fruit for the entire team to express his thankfulness.
This trip was even more significant for me because I saw my very first psychiatric patient. She was a young woman in her early 30’s who had attempted suicide a few days prior to presenting at our clinic, only to be awaken from her attempt by her child frantically tugging on her leg. I had the pleasure of taking care of her throughout the month, starting with gathering her history & physical with my partner and medical school roommate, Forrest Turner. We watched her mental health improve significantly as her ulcer started healing with regular medical care & medication several times per week for the duration of our trip. Hugging her on the very last day of clinic & reflecting on her incredible progress resulted in a deep gratitude and satisfaction which I will never forget (see attached picture of Forrest and I with our patient). This experience kindled an interest in mental health, which was fed with the clinical experience of my psychiatry rotation during my third year. As a fourth-year medical student, I have decided to apply to general psychiatry for residency.
The clinical opportunities alone are worth the price of admission, but there is even more which is included in the package. Dr. Schuster and the BCF team ensure that every single weekend is utilized for relaxing activities and adventurous getaways. Over the course of the month, we traveled on the weekends to volcanoes (where some students chose to ride an ATV down the volcano!) and frequented hot springs, secluded beaches, and tennis courts at the tennis club in Sorsogon. One of my fondest memories is listening to Filipino hip-hop while playing basketball with teenagers for hours in the hot summer sun.
The food was also incredible. We ate fresh feasts every single day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I was even lucky enough to have a huge surprise 23rd birthday feast & celebration planned for me during the trip! We finished our trip in the Sofitel five-star hotel in Manila after the trip was done; the highlight of our final night together was meeting Steve Nash (my favorite basketball player) before partaking in the world-famous Spiral restaurant’s international buffet with my new friends.
I am lucky to be writing this reflection over 3 years after the completion of this trip. The time that has lapsed between the composition of this essay and the end of the trip has allowed me to gain a more mature understanding about what I have taken away from my time in the Philippines. You will treat patients with late stages of pathology – this will likely break your heart. They might be “too young”, or perhaps “too innocent” for the diseases that they are afflicted with. You may come back to your room at the end of a long day and feel the weight of their pain, which may cause you to write for hours, consider all the reasons why you went into medicine, and ponder your long-term goals. All of these are immensely useful reactions; the deep introspection that may follow challenging encounters will hopefully motivate you to hone your craft every single day. They will ideally serve as a stark reminder of the gravity of your role, while forcing you to understand that you cannot heal everyone but that it is noble to work for the benefit the patient immediately in front of you. I would learn these lessons repeatedly during my third year of medical school, and I am forever grateful to Dr. Schuster and the entire Bicol Clinic Foundation team for imparting such valuable teachings. Truth be told, this trip has influenced me in ways I am just now beginning to realize; I hope to continue unpacking the experience as time passes. I wish you the luck of being selected, and hope you find the experience to be as life-altering as I have.Warm regards,
Florida Atlantic University Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine
Class of 2020
BCF has dispatched more than 150 medical students, in addition to dozens of American and foreign physicians and nurses, to provide care to more than 75,000 patients in the Philippines, Nepal and Haiti, many of whom had never before seen a physician. Our team members also volunteer in orphanages and schools to extend health care to other aspects of life. We’d love for you to be Part of the Start!Join Our Team