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Philippa Jowett

As part of my Diagnostic Radiography degree we were told that we could travel abroad for our elective placement. I jumped at the chance and chose to travel to Pokhara in Nepal.

I chose Pokhara for two reasons. One, because I love mountains, and two because I went to school with two Nepalese students and was good friends with them. I really wanted to go to Nepal to see what healthcare was like, what treatments were available to patients and what the hospitals were like.

Before travelling to Pokhara, I had many phone calls with Work the World. They gave me lots of information and answered all my questions. They also listened carefully to what I wanted to get out of the placement. As radiography students in Leeds, we experience a range of different departments. So, I was able to tell them that I wanted to get the same breadth of experience while in Pokhara.

I spent my first week in general X-ray, which was an eye-opener! There were three staff members working across two X-ray rooms. By the end of day one, we had examined over 130 patients. It was quite different from an NHS hospital where there would be more staff to share such a big workload.

The culture around patient privacy in Nepal was different to that in the UK. Patients were brought into the room while the previous patient was still getting changed, but this seemed totally normal.

Radiation protection standards were well observed for radiography staff, but less so for patients and their families. Where I could, I shut the doors so that other patients were not irradiated and made sure that only the patient was in the room when the exposure was made.

I split my second week between CT and MRI. The CT scanner was only a 4-slice scanner, where in the UK we have 64-slice scanners. There was only one scanner in the hospital, and due to its age, it often broke down. On one of the days, the scanner was out of action, which meant that patients were unable to get their scans. Patients had to pay for their treatment in Nepal, and as the MRI scan was the most expensive, very few patients were able to afford it.

I spent my final week in ultrasound. It was especially insightful as we don’t spend that much time in back home as part of our university course. Again, there was little patient privacy. There were two US beds next to each other and they were completely open, with patients watching other patients having scans done while waiting for their own. When a bed became free, the next patient would hop on to claim their spot otherwise someone else would take it.

Ultrasound was very much the first port of call for most patients. The workload was high, and often the radiologists were unable to get through all the patients in a day. I really enjoyed being here as the doctors were really keen to teach me anatomy and explain pathologies seen on the scan.

The most noticeable differences were in the lack of patient centred care. Again, this major difference was a result of local culture. However, as the weeks passed, I did notice that there were subtle elements to patient-centred care.

As time went by, I really settled in and began to appreciate how resourceful staff were, seeing the difference they were making to patients’ lives. Patients respected local staff and were willing to cooperate as long as they could see that they or their family members were getting better. I also had plenty of opportunity to talk with the radiographers, practising my Nepali and talking about how their local university program runs.

Our placements were only Monday to Friday so when it came to weekend trips, there was so much to do in Nepal. Going on safari in Chitwan National Park was a great way to spend my 21st birthday! We saw rhinos, sloths, bears, alligators and elephants!

We hiked up a mountain called Sarankot and stayed the night to catch the sunrise. In the morning we took a yoga class and then paraglided down the mountain. We saw amazing views of the mountains in the distance and felt like we were on top of the world, literally! On the way up the mountain, we got slightly lost, but local people were so helpful and friendly that they happily pointed us in the right direction. We did everything together as a house, which made the experience so much more enjoyable.

If I could give you two pieces of advice, the first would be DO IT! The experience will make you more well-rounded person, from travelling by yourself to the placement to making lots of new friends. It also really helps your placement portfolio stand out.

The second piece of advice I would offer is to be relaxed about the whole thing. Before travelling, I was nervous about visiting another country by myself. But, once there, it was the experience of a lifetime.

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