Tania Sasson - Medicine in Mongolia
After having returned from my travels to India with Projects Abroad in the summer of 2011, I was eager to learn where my next adventure would take me. In January 2013, searching through the plethora of possible different destinations, I was at a loss for where I wanted to go next.
As a university student fascinated by the human body, I knew I was ultimately interested in a medical placement yet there were still so many choices. And so, two weeks later, it was an impulse decision more than anything else that led me to embark upon a journey to Ulaanbaatar, the world’s coldest capital city.
Arriving in Mongolia
Upon my arrival, despite it being 1.30am, I was introduced to my host family who were all awake eagerly waiting for me. I spoke with my host mother before heading to bed and soon learned that she was one of the kindest and friendliest people I have ever met. I immediately knew that choosing to go to Mongolia was without a doubt the best decision I could have made.
Throughout my month-long stay, my host family did all that they could to ensure my comfort. They made me feel like part of the family, inviting me to spend time with them and taking me along on weekends on various outings, including a trip to the national park.
My Medicine Placement
The day after I arrived, I received a tour of the city from the Projects Abroad staff and was later introduced to my placement supervisor, the head surgeon at the Mongolian Central Railway Hospital. It was here that I saw and experienced things that I never would have gotten the chance to at home.
My first week at the hospital, I observed a hysterectomy, countless cholecystectomies (both laparoscopic and open) and I even got to hold one of the gallbladders once it was removed and empty all the gallstones! By the second week, as I began to gain the surgeon’s trust, I got to scrub in and I was given more responsibility in the operating room: I was keeping incision areas open and cauterizing blood vessels.
I’ll never forget the Tuesday morning I showed up to my work and learned of a recently admitted patient who needed immediate surgery. If she didn’t have the surgery that afternoon, her condition would severely deteriorate. However, despite decreased odds of a successful surgery, we would have to wait until the following day to operate because Tuesday is considered bad luck day in Mongolia and therefore no surgeries are performed on this day of the week.
Traveling to Mongolia as a surgical intern opened my eyes to a healthcare system that is interspersed with local influences. While I was having an unforgettable time gaining work experience, I wanted to partake in something worthwhile to give back to their community. Upon discussing this with the in-country Projects Abroad staff, they were ready to do what they could to make sure my experience was everything I wanted it to be and so they arranged for me to spend time on a Care placement at a local orphanage.
Working at a Care Placement
At the orphanage, I found it amazing to see the children laughing and smiling. Meanwhile, I also found it emotionally tough thinking that these children have no parental love. This very fact made me realize the importance of the love and attention a volunteer can provide these children with.
One of my responsibilities was to teach the children basic English. Overcoming language barriers by using only body movements to teach English was initially tough, but my efforts combined with those of the children proved very rewarding. Little things, like the smile of a five-year-old girl after the first time she counted to ten in English on her own and the hug I received after one of the older children managed to name every color on my Rubik's cube, are what I found so encouraging and especially rewarding.
My time spent at the orphanage without a doubt marks my proudest moments of my stay in Mongolia. It is a shame how little is known in the Western world about this country that is rich in beauty, culture and history. Creative, beautiful and hospitable people populate Mongolia. I can truly say that I could have chosen no better destination for my Medical and Care projects than the land of blue sky.
I really hope to return one day and I highly urge anyone considering such a trip to jump at the chance. Having lived with a local host family, worked in a hospital and volunteered in an orphanage, I was totally immersed in the culture. I feel that I got the most out of my experience and that traveling to a developing country with Projects Abroad was the best way for me to experience the country for what it truly is.
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