Discovering the Common Thread of Medicine, Emotions are universal – Ivana’s experiences across Asia
Who are you today?
I am Ivana, an Italian MD at her last year of specialization in Anesthesiology and ICM. As well known, becoming an Anesthetist is a long and tough journey, 5 years to add to the 6 for graduation and 1 for medical licensing examination.
Even I am surprised when I realize it’s been more than 10 years now!
Do you want to walk us through your medical experience abroad?
Over these years, I combined my willing to encounter new professional environments with my passion for traveling. The first time I took advantage of the international programs available I got involved in the renowned Erasmus program, which I did in Lisbon, Portugal.
Afterwards I joined a medical students organization called SISM involving fellows from all over the world, which marked the starting line to my journey towards different locations across Asia.
Why did you choose Indonesia?
As strange as it might sound, I chose Indonesia for my experience abroad even though the majority of peers around me were fairly looking forward to more sophisticated realities where technology and resources would have been way more advanced than the ones we are used to. However, I had no doubt and chased the opposite choice. I wanted to discover a less urbanised context in which the healthcare is different from ours in terms of lack of resources, and so wanted to see how the system works in such conditions and how to humanly interact in such contexts.
My experience in Java Island took place in Malang, a city where in order to reach the hospital I had to cross a vast rice plantation among poor villages with happy kids playing in the mud.
During my 2 months stay I saw how it is possible to treat patients even with complex diseases with a scarcity of resources, hence it was very helpful for me going back to the dawning of science and medicine, where having a deep understanding of the basics of the subject makes the difference.
Besides, I came across new kinds of diseases we are not used to treat on patients as we live in a developed country and we would never see those diseases reach such serious conditions.
Despite the deep diversity, I found a leading thread which is the same all around the world: the necessity to get cured.
It was really meaningful to see a farmer coming to the emergency room barefoot and compare the same situation back home with a University professor coming to the hospital for a heart attack. These people are associated by the same fear: fear of the disease, of suffering, fear of death.
So I came to the conclusion that wherever a Doctor is, whatever hospital from the world most technologically advanced to the poorest one in the middle of a rice plantation, he always operates and treats the patients with the same emotions even if in possession of different tools. And this made me think a lot.
What happened next?
Another meaningful and opposite experience I had was in Taichung, Taiwan, where for 1 month could face not just a more advanced technology but came across the chinese traditional medicine for the first time. Curiosity was mixed with prejudice: we use to wrongly associate chinese medicine to magic practices without any scientific foundation, but I was instead positively surprised to discover that it can actually work and that’s when I came across acupuncture for the first time, a technique that today I consider a valid alternative treatment.
What was the last experience in Asia?
The last 3-months internship I’d like to tell about it’s the one I undertook in China, Shanghai, where I entered for the first time the enthralling world of robotic surgery. However, I have to say I didn’t find myself completely comfortable in that environment: I felt like the human empathy was missing somehow. I went to see some orphanages with kids suffering from different diseases, and felt the clear distinction between kids coming from wealthy families and those from the poorest ones.
This aspect, probably linked to deep culture differences and my personal point of view on specific topics, like respect for animals, for the disadvantaged people (according to my strict personal opinion) strongly hit my sensibility.
Out of these experiences, what is the strongest lesson you’ve learned?
It might sound like a cliché, but traveling and interacting with such extreme realities really widens your mindset. As a Doctor, I found myself enriched after each of these travels. A mix of memories and new competences I will cherish forever.
Ultimately, Humanity and expertise are the skills that make the difference in a MD all across the globe.