From accommodation to student support
2020-05-29

Sunday 26th January

Ms Mahalingam arrived early to pick us up. She and her colleague Ms Miriam Josiah, Deputy Head in Research and Development at IIHS, kindly offered to spend the day taking us out in and outside of Colombo.

Probably the most relevant place we visited today was the place where traditional medicines were explained and dispensed. Our guide explained how they used natural ingredients to create creams and lotions that range from hair removal to hair regrowth, weight loss to reclaiming youthful skin, acne treatment to diabetic foot. How well do they work? Well they proceeded to dissolve a patch of my leg hair with cream in the matter of minutes with no skin irritation. Impressive. I am not clear if it has the same robust evidence base as medical treatments advised in the guidelines that are used by UK doctors. However, the use of such medicines in Sri Lanka is arguably much more prominent than in the UK. Our SLMP medical students will have to learn how to negotiate and incorporate patient’s use of such traditional and alternative treatments in their management plan. An incredibly useful skill that will serve them well practicing medicine in many parts of the world.

The journey in the van allowed me to quiz our hosts about their vast experience in teaching and supporting nurses and physiotherapists as IIHS is one of the two partners that the University of Aberdeen are partnering with to help deliver the SLMP. For nearly 20 years it has been delivering high quality training for student nurses and physiotherapists from many countries. So, what will it be like to be a medical student in Colombo?For those who are interested, I have summarised our discussion below. We covered social, laundry, sports, accommodation, food, drinking water, travel, weather, safety, and student support.

Oh, the missing suitcase finally arrived at 11.30pm to a grateful recipient. At least there would be no need for an early morning visit to the department store again tomorrow.

Social

The SLMP students will join the larger team of healthcare students at IIHS, with local and international students, there are many social activities for them to join in. From the international cultural event to a talent contest! As ever, it is up to each student to choose how much or how little to take part in.

Laundry

My son is in his first year at University and phoned one day, early in the term, having difficulty with the halls of residence’s washing machine. It seems the smart card system, was too smart for his “I’m studying computer science at University” brain. Furthermore, he asked, “how much detergent do I put in with each load”, I am sure he could hear my wife’s eyes roll.

So clean clothes are not just desirable but essential for a future doctor. Accommodation may have washing machines in them or there are “shops” where, for a small fee, you can hand your dirty clothes in and you can pick them up cleaned and folded. In UK, some medical students attend similar “shops” which are free and more accurately called “their parent’s home”.

Accommodation

SLMP students will have to find their own accommodation in Colombo. However, IIHS will help support with this. There are multiple areas to rent very close to the main hospital (Asiri Central) and the hospital square (where the government run hospitals are situated) with a wide range of facilities and comfort. IIHS will look into possible accommodation agencies that may help find suitable facilities.

Food

In a city as large as Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka, it is not surprising there is an enormous range of very reasonably priced restaurants. Furthermore, you are never more than a short walk to a nearby supermarket, such as chains like Keells or Cargill’s (see pictures). The fresh fruit, vegetable, fish and meat, allows students to prepare almost any meal they wish or at least limited by their culinary skills!

Drinking water

It is probably best to avoid drinking tap water, but bottled water is very cheap. A large 4 litre bottle can be bought for less than £1 UK sterling. It is also easy to boil water.

Travel

In the same way UK has a lot of weather, Colombo has a lot of traffic, especially at certain times. That may be unfair, the last time I visited London, another capital city, it too had a lot of traffic, but somehow it is perhaps more noticeable in Colombo. So, it is important that we minimise unnecessary travel during the student’s clinical attachment. Note to self, allowance of sufficient time to travel between places must be made.

IIHS has transport between IIHS campus and the hospitals

It was suggested that for other travel Uber and Pick Me are perhaps the easiest and convenient to use. The price is clearly set by the app, and you will get a picture of your driver. Tuk tuks are a quick way to travel but you must watch pricing which is negotiated by you and the driver. It is also a bit more exposed to the busy traffic. Taxis have a fixed price but are more expensive.

Weather

Sri Lanka has the weather you expect, warm with a rainy season between September to December. You don’t need that thick coat you used in Aberdeen. As in most hot countries you need to be careful being outside in the midday sun.

Student support

IIHS have been supporting international students for nearly two decades. They have a well-established student support team, who will help with accommodation, finance, mental health, or just a chat. Plus, all the tutors and IIHS team exhibited an overwhelming concern about student welfare and delivering the best student experience. This manifested itself, in that wherever we went where there were IIHS students, the students would gather round and chat to the IIHS team members with palpable warmth and respect.

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

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