From Elective Reviews - India - Christian Fellowship Hospital, South India - Sarah Peters
I spent my elective in South India and the majority of it was in a town called Oodanchatram in Tamil Nadu, the most southern state, at the Christian Fellowship Hospital. I can safely say I absolutely loved my time there (not that it was without its difficulties and shocks) and would fully recommend it as a destination. I didn't plan it through an organisation but a friend sent me the contact details and Meena at the hospital was very helpful in sorting out the admin and giving me advice on travel and transport etc.So why did I appreciate my time there so much..? Part of it was definitely the adventure of going off by myself somewhere I'd never been before...it was pretty daunting as I've never been travelling like that before, however, with some careful planning and the knowledge that wherever I ended up I would always be in the company of God, I navigated the various modes of transport to arrive at the hospital safe and sound and ended up really appreciating the freedom of it.
India is such a colourful, energetic and friendly nation, there was always so much to see and experience and learn - even if it was occasionally a little overwhelming! Being in the South, so long as I was careful, I invariably felt safe as I went around and staff at the hospital were keen to keep me informed on where was and wasn't good to go.
The hospital is run by the Christian Fellowship, established in 1955; the staff live above the wards or behind the hospital so you live, eat, work and play together and they made me feel very welcome and made it easy to slot in to the goings on. Their love of Christ and compassion for the poor is part of the very fibre of the hospital and was clear from first thing in the morning when we met together in the chapel and throughout the day in conversations between staff and the way they treat their patients with such patience and concern amidst the hectic life of clinics and wards. Staff work for very low wages at CFH so fees are minimal, and if the patient can't afford necessary treatment, the costs are written off completely. It's so encouraging talking to the doctors there, particularly those who've been there for years, and I heard incredible stories of how God has provided for them every step of the way.
A lot of what I did was observation, particularly as I couldn't understand the local dialect. But the doctors conversed in English and would explain things as we went along, getting me involved where possible, so I learnt a lot whilst I was there. I also got to attend evening teaching sessions for the junior doctors by some renowned Indian doctors! Many of the patients are very poor so I saw a very different way of life, particular on home visits. Experiencing such poverty challenged me on what exactly my priorities are and the staff at the hospital didn't hold back on confronting me on what I was willing to give up to God, particularly in terms of time, money and hospitality. I was thankful for time and space in the evenings to spend time thinking and praying about this with God.
I was able to choose to spend time with different specialities and saw a variety of signs and symptoms - some common to the UK (IHD, DM etc...) and some less so (Thalassaemia and snake bites..!). I got to practice forming differentials without the plethora of tests and investigations we have in the UK. I was generally asked what I was and wasn't happy doing so never felt I had to do something I felt I shouldn't or didn't have the skills to do. It was difficult, however, not being able to communicate directly with the patient though, particularly when the doctors told me to examine something and I only had facial expressions and gestures to go on.
Through both my time at CFH and visiting other areas and hospitals in South India I learnt a lot and greatly increased my appreciation of our NHS (the availability of care to all, regardless of financial or social situation, the holistic health care offered, relative consistency and cohesion between hospitals and organisations, the focus of care not cost). I was certainly challenged by how much I take these things for granted in conversations with doctors who were amazed that patients didn't greatly appreciate the system here!
If you're wondering about going alone...I ended up enjoying having time and space to myself to think about the vastly different experiences I was having and the freedom to do what I wanted. However I was fortunate to meet some other students at the hospital who I could do a bit of travelling with and so I wasn't the only foreigner there! There are definite pros and cons to going alone or in a pair or group and there's potential for you to enjoy yourself and learn loads either way. If you do choose to go alone though, plan carefully where you go to ensure you keep yourself safe! I'd certainly recommend South India and CFH on that front!