Monday, 1 August 2016

New Zealand exchange broadens health horizons

Each year two students from East Gippsland swap places with two New Zealand students at the University of Otago for two weeks to experience a different health care system. In July, Mariam Hassan, a Year 4C student based at Bairnsdale, was one of two Monash students who travelled to New Zealand. Here is her reflection on the experience.


Mariam Hassan enjoyed her exchange to Blenheim.

It was on the plane from Auckland to Blenheim that I was first introduced to the friendly, small town nature of Blenheim. Bursting with both excitement and uncertainty, my apprehension was immediately put at ease. I was sitting next to a social worker from the hospital who gave me a comprehensive overview of Blenheim and Wairau Hospital, pointing out that one of the paediatricians (who I worked with later that week) was on our flight. Flying over the Marlborough Sounds at sunset I had spectacular aerial views, my first glimpse of New Zealand’s beautiful landscape.

Wairau Hospital is comparable in size to Sale Hospital, with 65 beds, including a paediatric ward and permanent obstetricians/gynaecologists.  Tailored to my interests, it was arranged for me to spend two days on women’s, three days on paediatrics, three days at a GP clinic and two days in ED. As one of only two medical students at Wairau Hospital, there was no shortage of opportunities for me to get involved. Within the first two hours of my arrival on Monday morning I was scrubbed in and assisting in theatre. The doctors were all very keen to teach, during down time the paediatricians would spend time giving me detailed personalised tutorials- with butcher’s paper and all. I was writing admission notes, attending ward rounds and clinics (where I saw my first case of Henoch-Schonlein Purpura).


Wairau Hosptial, Blenheim South Island of New Zealand

Over the weekend we drove through the mountainous countryside up to Nelson. To satisfy my Lord of the Rings fandom we stopped in Pelorus where a scene from The Hobbit was filmed and visited the jeweller who crafted The One Ring.  After visiting the Nelson Saturday market, where I tried the traditional Maori deep fried bread, we were greeted by two large fur seals at the beach.

‘Light up Nelson,’ similar to Melbourne’s ‘White Night’, was running that week- illuminating the town by night and showcasing the work of local artists.

On Sunday we drove to Picton with absolutely breathtaking views of the Marlborough Sounds. Hiking the Queen Charlotte Track through pristine native forest, alongside an intricate maze of waterways, bays, coves, inlets and mountains was certainly a highlight of my trip. Here I was introduced to New Zealand bird life, spotting Pukeku, Fan Tails and Shags. My housemates were fantastic and generously dedicated their entire weekend to showing me around the region.

The following week started at Renwick Medical Centre, where Dr Buzz and his team are full of energy. As the coordinator of the RMIP program in Blenheim, Dr Buzz is a passionate teacher and is well accustomed to the parallel consulting model. With an incredible depth of knowledge and genuine dedication to patient centred care, Dr Buzz was the perfect mentor.

My final two days were spent in ED at Wairau Hospital. Here I was able to assess and work up patients before presenting to a consultant. Under the guidance of the doctors, I was writing discharge summaries, prescriptions and imaging request forms. I was also able to practise cannulation, venepuncture and using a slit lamp.  Blenheim is surrounded by the Wither Hills and extensive vineyards, creating a picturesque backdrop that even made chilly morning walks to the hospital enjoyable. Expecting wild and woolly weather, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Blenheim boasts the title of the sunniest town in NZ. Nights were cold but the days were mostly sunny and crisp (a stark contrast to the flooding experienced in Gippsland while I was away).

This was my first experience in health care delivery outside of Australia. While the hospital system was largely similar to Australia, there were some key differences. For example, the midwives play a more prominent and autonomous role, with no GP obstetricians.

My time coincided with Maori language week, giving me a unique insight into Maori culture, history and language. It was refreshing to see how celebrated and deeply engrained the Maori culture is in New Zealand. It was encouraging to learn that last year a major milestone, demographic proportionality, was achieved, with the number of Maori students entering medical school proportionate to the Maori population.

A massive thank you to everyone involved in coordinating my trip- I know that my experience was so positive because of all your hard work and organisation.

I am incredibly grateful to have been given this invaluable experience. It has truly been a once in a lifetime opportunity and I would highly recommend this opportunity to all. I met so many wonderful people and was welcomed with genuine warmth and generosity. These two weeks have certainly broadened my horizons and enriched with a wealth of knowledge, experience and perspective.

I have no doubt I will be back to visit New Zealand in the future.

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