Elective Diaries - St Vincent & The Grenadines

In the summer of 2018, I spent 8 weeks in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on

my medical elective. After waiting for 4 years, I finally got to experience the best

part of medical school and I was not disappointed.


After 14 hours of travelling, we finally arrived on the island and were greeted by

our friendly and eccentric landlord. Her enthusiasm was comforting, the island

doesn’t receive many tourists so she was bursting to show off her island;

although I was miles away from home, she instantly made me feel at ease. The

next day, she was kind enough to take us shopping and show us around the

island. Although small, it was absolutely amazing. The beaches looked like a

screensaver, the weather was hot and the locals were extremely friendly. We

were treated to a “Vincy Sunday lunch” and then of course, we went to the beach,

which was only a 10-minute walk away.


The next day was our first official day of the elective. We were instructed to take

a Vincy bus to the hospital, as it was a 20-minute drive away. After waiting on the

side of the road for 15 minutes, we realised that the Vincy buses weren’t buses at

all; they were the brightly coloured vans that drove past at 100 miles an hour

blasting Soca music. The journey to the hospital was eventful to say the least; a

few prayers were said during that journey! After we paid our placement fees

($50 per week!), we were told that we could have the next two days off to get

ourselves together and get used to the island, so once again we went to the beach

– it was then that I realised this would be a common theme on this elective.


For the first four weeks of my elective, I was in the obstetric and gynaecology

department. This was a fast paced and busy area of the hospital and consisted of

a labour ward, postnatal ward and female surgical ward. As this was the main

hospital, it offered the highest level of care on the island. Medical care is highly

subsidized by the government, but there is a lack of some specialised equipment,

drugs and personnel meaning that there are often times when patients go

without. For example there was only one CTG machine in the entire hospital so,

whilst in the UK women may be hooked up to the machine for continuous

monitoring, here it was only used if necessary and women often had to queue up

in order to use it. Despite this, doctors had an unrelenting ambition to do their

best for their patients and often arranged medication to be shipped to Saint

Vincent so they could prescribe it to their patients.


My days usually consisted of ward round, teaching followed by some work on the

ward however by 12 pm I was done and free to explore the island. When I first

arrived on the wards, I was hit by the stifling humidity. Doctors and medical

students have to wear white coats at all times, and most wards do not have air

conditioning so whilst everyone else was used to these conditions, I usually

spent most of the ward round dripping in sweat. The staff and patients were

extremely friendly, and the “local” medical students (of which 99% were in fact

from Nigeria) were quick to take me under my wing. The teaching was

invaluable, and I was often kept on my toes; the consultant was often quizzing us

throughout the morning and many times we were asked to presentations to the

rest of the team without much warning. At first I found it intimidating but I soon

grew confident and I learnt so much during my time there.


I was fortunate enough to be on the island for carnival season, which is known as

Vincy Mas. This is a month long celebration in which there are events and parties

nearly every night, and this was easily the best part of my elective. Almost

everyone on the island took part, and it was not uncommon to see a consultant

dancing in one of the bands alongside one of the nurses! Taking part in the

festivities made me feel like a true Vincentian as I was able to fully immerse

myself in their culture and spend some time with the locals. As you can tell, there

was plenty of time to explore the island, which we took full advantage of! After

we had seen most of Saint Vincent, we travelled to a few of the Grenadine islands

including a boat trip to Tobago Cays to swim with turtles!


Following my 4 week Obstetrics and Gynaecology placement, I spent 4 weeks in

the A&E department. I chose this because I haven’t had much experience in

emergency medicine as I had always found it to be quite daunting, so I decided to

challenge myself and experience it for the first time in a different country. As

there were quite a few students in the department, most days ended after one

hour of teaching at 8:30 am, excluding one day a week where I stayed behind

until the afternoon. During my time there, I learnt a lot about trauma

management and advanced life support, mostly through teaching but

occasionally by observing one of the doctors manage a patient with a life

threatening injury. As with most emergency departments, the pace ebbed and

flowed. At times there was not much to do then suddenly a gun shot victim

would be rushed in, or a child having a severe asthma attack.


Overall my elective was an amazing experience, one that I often wish I could

relive. The similarities were often comforting but I found some of the disparities

in opportunities and resources hard to believe at first. It threw into sharp

perspective my own experience of medical school and hospitals in the UK and

made me feel incredibly lucky.


Written By Ife Williams

If you'd like to share your elective experience on our blog post; email us: melaninmedics@gmail.com

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