Flying to Colombo
2020-05-29

In the following series of blog posts, Dr Ching-wa Chung, our Sri Lanka Medical Pathway Year 1-3 Lead, documents his visit to Sri Lanka which took place earlier this year.

Flying out to Colombo, Sri Lanka today, but not before a teaching session with the Sri Lanka Medical Pathway (SLMP) students, in the morning. We were joined by Nele, administrator for the SLMP and Nichola Hendry, clinical skills tutor. The SLMP is a UK medical degree with a twist. The first three years are spent in Aberdeen, before students experience clinical attachments in year 4 and 5 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. One of the aims and advantage of the SLMP is that students experience 2 different health care systems from two different countries preparing them for a practicing medicine in multicultural societies wherever in the world they chose to. My role is to look after the students during their first three years in Aberdeen and ensure their learning prepares them for their clinical experience in Sri Lanka.

Today we covered the topic of how healthcare is delivered throughout the world. The international diversity of the SLMP students means that my job as the tutor is easy. I just have to let them share their knowledge and experiences from all around the world. From this, they discussed the advantages and disadvantages of the different systems, is the universally free but waiting list heavy NHS better than the private but fast access and high-quality care in Singapore? Quite rightly Sri Lanka’s healthcare, championed by those SLMP students from Sri Lanka, can hold its head up high in this company. It is great to see the future of medicine recognising what has been achieved so far yet still striving for better.

I had meant to take a picture of the session, but I was so caught up in the discussion I forgot. Hence the attached picture is one of the students taken earlier on in the year with me on the far right. Inspired by the students I headed to the airport to see Sri Lanka health care first hand.

Saturday 25th January 2020 - Travelling across time

“So, if you could teleport, instead of travelling to your destination, would you?” I ask my travelling companions, Ms Sarah Miller (Admissions Manager) and Dr Wendy Dollery (Admissions Lead). An emphatic “yes” comes from Ms Miller as we all recount stories of epic fails from our travel. Despite this, I consider the journey as part of the anticipation of a holiday, the destination is the reward for enduring the journey there. This wasn’t a holiday, but I was looking forward to seeing the place and meeting the people that will feature in my working life for the coming years.

The problem with travelling across timelines is that it becomes confusing when does each day becomes the next? Perhaps this should be a question in the UCAT exam that most Medical schools (including Aberdeen) use to help select those for interview from the many applicants. Those who could answer must surely be good enough to study medicine.

Colombo is five and a half hours ahead of Aberdeen in time. This leads to some logistic considerations for the students. With both the Aberdeen MBChB and SLMP resulting in the same high-quality UK primary qualification, both sets of students sit the same exam. So, could we run the exams simultaneously in Aberdeen and Colombo? The answer appears to be yes (9 am in Aberdeen = 2:30 pm in Columbo). What is more of a mystery is why is Colombo five and a half hours ahead? Not five, not six hours but five and a half? It will have to remain a mystery as sitting on a plane 20,000 feet in the air means that neither Google nor YouTube are available to inform me. I will leave you with a picture that shows why travelling may not be obsolete if / when teleportation is perfected. Nature never fails to inspire.

Arrival

We discovered the other problem that teleportation would solve, missing bags. One of the group’s bag was still in Heathrow. Bitter experience meant that all of us had packed one day’s worth of clothes in our hand luggage. From my scouting days “be prepared” has never seemed more apt.

Ms Nayani Mahalingam, Deputy Head of the School of Biomedical Sciences at the International Institute of Health Sciences (IIHS) met us at the airport and graciously took us to the hotel. I’m not sure how long the journey took from the airport. The shifting time zones and travel had messed up any sense of timing I may have had in the first place but seemed about the same as most city airports I have visited.

We all had an “early night” except for an impromptu visit to the local department store to buy a new top for our “suitcase-less” colleague for the next day. As my long-suffering wife will attest, I hate clothes shopping at the best of times, to do so after travelling for 20 hours is not be my idea of fun. However, it did give me a first sight of Colombo at night with the heat that is unusual for those who are used to living in Scotland.

Published by The School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition, University of Aberdeen

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