Satchel Tangonan and Y-Lan Nguyen
Students of the Macaulay Honors College take a break from study life and gain valuable experience while volunteering at a hospital in Mongolia
Satchel Tangonan from White Plains and Y-Lan Nguyen from New York City, have been best friends since they first met at mathematics class at Macaulay Honors College at the City College of New York. Both share a strong interest in medicine and wanted to gain practical experience before starting their medical career in the US.
Volunteering at a Medical Project in Mongolia was a great opportunity for Satchel and Y-Lan who decided to spend two weeks living and working in Ulaanbaatar, a city with unique political and cultural history. “With this trip we gain experience at a hospital such as observing different surgeries up close and learning from the doctors, but also experience a new culture”, said Y-Lan.
Satchel and Y-Lan were placed in the general surgery department at Shastin’s Central Hospital in Ulaanbaatar. On the Medical Project volunteers shadow the doctors’ work during surgeries, ask them questions and can get involved in more hands-on tasks. This way, they are able to learn medical practices in Mongolia and improve vital medical skills. Satchel and Y-Lan observed various surgeries including open cholecystectomy, laparoscopic cholecystectomy, lumpectomy, appendectomy, abdominal hernioplasty as well as liver abscess. They shadowed doctors and nurses interacting with patients after surgeries, and engaged in conversation with other medical students.
“This volunteering experience redirected my career towards becoming a scrub nurse. I was just going to be a nurse and do whatsoever comes next, but having watched the surgeries I really felt that I could be that person. I would be perfect for that kind of job, and this is the kind of job I would love to do. I don’t think I would have even gotten a chance to see surgeries, become so interested in becoming a scrub nurse, and really know about this position, if I wasn’t here” shared Satchel.
While interacting with patients, both students learned the power of one person helping another: “Our most rewarding experience was interacting with the patients, whether we were with the bandage nurse, or helping patients to sit up. They are still hurting from the surgeries and just to be able to help them to get back up or put on their shoes were the best experiences”, remembered Satchel.
Y-Lan not only learned about herself through this meaningful experience, but also gained inspiration to reflect on her career path: “My time at the hospital has re-confirmed what I want to do with my life and who I want to become. As a pre-medical student in the US, I don’t get as much exposure or direct contact with what I will do as a doctor in future. Seeing surgeries up close, following doctors and nurses, and interacting with the patients let me re-think what I’m doing with my life. It reminds me that this is what I’m going to do in the end. I needed to remotivate myself to study hard and to work hard for this. My time in Mongolia lets me see what I want my future to be like.”
Aside from their volunteering work at the hospital, Satchel and Y-Lan enjoyed living with their Mongolian host families and experiencing, first hand a culture different from their own. Y-Lan said: “We honestly cannot express how grateful we are for our host families. They’ve been open to us from the beginning and treated us just as if we were a member of their family.” Other activities they participated in included spending time with other volunteers, sightseeing, traveling to the countryside and around the city of Ulaanbaatar, going to the museums, and participating in social events organized by Projects Abroad.
Although only spending a short time in Mongolia, they completed their placement with much to share for future volunteers. Y-Lan advised: “Don’t be afraid because of the cultural difference and language barrier. You should really go out there, be pro-active, and ask questions when you need”, and Satchel added: “Don’t be afraid of coming during the winter. It’s fine. Even though it is January, the coldest month of the year, there is a lot to do. It is not as bad as people make it seem. And we are amazed how every Mongolian has been open, helpful, and patient.”
Overall, Satchel and Y-Lan found their time in Mongolia to be mutually beneficial and recommend the programme to other people interested in medicine, as Y-Lan put it: “It’s beneficial for everyone, because whoever you are helping it’s good for them and also for yourself, because you are learning.”
We hope great stories like these inspire others to help Projects Abroad continue to make a difference, and by doing so, learn something themselves along the way.
Read more about Medicine in Mongolia.