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Volunteer Review: Sydney P., Medicine in Jamaica

Medicine volunteers in Jamaica

I attend Tabor College in a small Kansas town, where I am majoring in biology and minoring in psychology and chemistry. Physician Assistant Graduate School is my next step after completing my degree in the coming academic year. I had shadowed and observed doctors in the United States but was really eager to be in the medical setting in a different culture. I needed to complete a forty-hour internship to graduate college, so I took the chance to find a very special place to intern, rather than a nearby clinic or hospital in the states.

Google is a college student’s best friend so I put my research skills to browse the internet for internship opportunities. I quickly found myself on the Projects Abroad web page and was instantly drawn to the vast range of project opportunities and available countries we could travel to! As a first time world traveller, I decided to pick a location close to home, and a location where I could escape the American winter. Jamaica it was. I applied for the Medicine program for a three-week stay and was instantly welcomed and supported by the Projects Abroad staff.

My Medical placement

Sydney dressing a wound during her Medicine project

I was assigned to the Mandeville Comprehensive Health Center, where I was paired with various nurses. I rotated through the curative, maternal and child health and family planning units and helped record heights, weights, blood pressures, blood sugars, patient interviews, and six-week postpartum check ups including vaccinations. I was able to observe nurses, midwives, and doctors as they worked with the local people. The technology was actually a surprise to me. There were electronic scales, electronic blood pressure cuffs, Accu-Checks for blood sugar tests, and sphygmomanometers.

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were appointment days, while Tuesdays and Thursdays were wound/dress changing days. I was overwhelmed during my tour of the facility because of how many staff members I met and how many offices I went through. But with the help of the staff, I was welcomed and supported during my work time there. I truly enjoyed interacting with the patients and learning about their lives and the Jamaican culture in general. I greatly appreciated all the time and effort each staff member dedicated to make my time at the clinic enjoyable and impactful. It was amazing to see that the relaxed Jamaican culture even finds its way into the professional medical clinic setting.

My host family

Sydney P. with her host mother

My host family was absolutely amazing. Mr. and Mrs. Birthwright stay at home as they were retired. Mikhal, their fourteen-year-old grandson, also lives with them and attends a local high school. Their house is located just up the hill from Mandeville town center, so I was able to walk to my work placement and the staff offices each day. Mrs. B is an outstanding cook! Her food could have been served in a restaurant. I only ate two meals outside of the house and that was lunch on my induction day with my advisor and lunch one day with some of the ladies from the clinic. Jamaicans only eat breakfast and dinner as their big meals but Mrs. B always made sure I had a packed lunch and a snack before dinner also. She most definitely made sure I had enough to eat, even when I said I had enough already, and clean drinking water, juice, tea, milk, or sorrel. I enjoyed trying each and every traditional dish that Mrs. B cooked up.

I was provided a spacious room that I shared for one week with a volunteer roommate, with a private bathroom for the both of us. There was a washing machine for laundry and good bonding time with Mrs. B while we hung clothes and linens on the line to dry in the sun. Graciously, I was also provided with Wi-Fi and hot water for showers. Some volunteers do not get these extra amenities at their host families so I was most definitely thankful for these extra add-ons.

I also had the privilege of meeting the sister of Mr. B, Cynthia. Cynthia stayed at the house for the last two weeks of my stay. She took me with to Grand Market, the town wide event on Christmas Eve that occurs throughout all of Jamaica. I really felt welcomed by them all while enjoying the holiday season away from my own family. I was also welcomed by the Bally Hooly community as I attended a community dinner meeting, as well as by the Mandeville Army Legion where I relaxed for an evening with retired soldiers.

Exploring Jamaica

Manchester’s capital city was vibrant yet relaxed. Town center was a big circle that branched off with several main side streets. It was about a fifteen to twenty minute walk from one side of the town to the other. It was safe enough that I could walk by myself each day, but was advised to not walk alone at night for obvious safety reasons.

There were numerous opportunities to travel the country on the weekends and connect with other volunteers. It was amazing to meet up with other young adults in Ocho Rios and being able to talk about our volunteer work as well as life in general. I met people from Germany, Finland, Norway, and France. We enjoyed snorkelling on a private beach and were treated very well. The options for travelling are endless: swimming with dolphins, hiking, snorkelling, zip lining, city tours, you name it! The island has multitudes of beautiful sights that are waiting for you to explore!

My experience

Sydney P. in her scrubs with a gift from a patient

From the minute I landed in Montego Bay airport, I knew that the next three weeks were going to be life changing. I had already travelled six hours on a plane and then drove the next three hours on some of the worst roads I had ever experienced. There were potholes, minimal road signs, switchbacks, all added with the Jamaican driving style: fast and furious. I was completely overwhelmed and anxious driving through the small streets flooded with people and lined with marketplaces. But the beauty of the people and the environment were remarkable.

I’m an introvert but I survived three weeks in a foreign country as a first time traveller. That’s the key to making memories: embrace your experience. Respect the people around you. Dive into their culture, including trying new foods and participating in cultural customs. Listen to what they have to say and attempt to understand the people. Work hard at your placement and be proactive in doing anything asked of you. Take risks and travel on the weekends. Love cramming twenty-five people into a fifteen-passenger van. You will make lifelong friends with the local people as well as other volunteers. You will gain new views of the world and on life. The only problem about travelling abroad is that you will never want to leave. You will feel a piece of yourself missing when you return home and resume normal daily habits. But you will never forget your experiences that sneak back into your memory as you’re daydreaming instead of working or studying.

If you made it this far into my story, you’re reading it for a reason. You’re being called to travel abroad and make an impact on a community thousands of miles away from you. They are eager to make an impact on you also so quit debating about money or time. Start planning your trip and I promise you won’t regret any second of the life-changing journey you embark on.

Sydney P.

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.

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