Volunteer Review: Elizabeth H., Medicine in China
I used to live in Shanghai when I was in elementary school and it has been at least a decade since I’ve been back home (if I can even call it home anymore). I knew that Shanghai would be more developed now than when I had left it years ago and I really wanted to experience a different Shanghai to what I remembered, especially at my placement.
My Medical Placement in Shanghai
Since I am a pre-med student, I decided to choose a placement in a hospital and I was happy that I was placed in one of Shanghai’s top teaching hospitals, Renji. I chose to stay in Shanghai for two months because I wanted to fully experience living in Shanghai and not just have a short vacation trip (which I had during the break).
Although the work day started early, it was really worthwhile to wake up each morning and follow the doctors for morning rounds. I then participated in the outpatient hours with them and for some departments, watching operations in the surgical rooms. I interned in four hospital departments: thoracic, orthopedics, gastro-enterology, and emergency medicine. They were all memorable and if one of these departments is one you’d like to go into, you definitely won’t be disappointed with your experience in Shanghai.
For me, the language was not a problem and I had no problem with communication during my stay. All of the hospital staff are welcoming and pleasant, and they are willing to spend time discussing patients’ conditions and medical histories. It seems like there is no such thing as private medical records, which is quite different from the US. Learning about a patient’s condition and medical history is hugely beneficial though, as I learned how he or she was treated and what course of treatment was given.
When I was observing an operation, a doctor asked me if I’d like to participate in the surgery, which I had to reject (sadly). During my gastro-enterology rotation, I got to help fill in paperwork for the residents, which was exciting. It was wonderful to meet and become friends with so many people there and fortunately, I am still able to keep in contact with them through WeChat.
Accommodation and Staff Support
I was excited about the accommodation when I first signed up for this project. I have never lived on my own and I was looking forward to experiencing life like other Shanghainese citizens, so living in an average apartment in Shanghai was like a dream come true. The apartment (located in Pudong) was comfortable and lovely, and accommodated five volunteers and interns.
It was close to my placement so I could walk to work every morning (this was a great workout – you will certainly be leaving Shanghai with strengthened calf muscles!). In most bathrooms in China, you are not allowed to flush toilet paper, and even though I found this tedious to do sometimes, I liked knowing that I was not staying in a five-star hotel. I was also pleasantly surprised when the flat was equipped with its own drinking water.
There is normally a weekly social for all the volunteers and we got to go try out Chinese restaurants as a group, which was fun. There is nothing to be afraid of when living in Shanghai as a volunteer because the Projects Abroad coordinators were always there to help out whenever we called or messaged them – especially when the flat had no hot water or the door knob of the main door fell off!
Being someone who’s partially Shanghainese and has lived in Shanghai for 5 years, I didn’t really think I’d take the time to go and explore Shanghai because, honestly, I’ve been to a lot of the places. However, Shanghai is always changing and growing constantly because it is already incredibly different from 10 years ago. It may even be different from what it was last year.
On the weekends, myself and the other volunteers staying at the apartment often went out to eat (Sichuan, authentic Shanghainese, and a Japanese all-you-can-eat buffet), got massages from a famous blind foot massage parlor, sang at karaoke, or visited museums and scenic places. For the last few days of my stay, I also went with several other volunteers to “cheap market” street where they sell low-priced items. This is an iconic place to go, especially for bargaining, and it’s a lot of fun.
I also managed to make local friends in Shanghai and I hung out with them a couple of times on my days off. They are so welcoming and I really felt like I was experiencing daily Shanghainese life. Regrettably, I didn’t travel to cities outside of Shanghai but I think I can leave that for the next time I go back!
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.