Datta Meghe Institute of Medical Sciences (DMIMS University) (India)

Impressions of DMIMS

Kristen Haakons - medical student from Sydney Medical School, undertook an ILA with DMIMS in 2012–13

"At the end of my first year, I completed a 4 week ILA at the Datta Meghe Institute of Medical Sciences in Wardha, India. I know it will sound cliché, but this trip was an incredible experience that I will never forget. In many ways it was far more challenging than I anticipated, but the experiences I had and knowledge I gained seemed to make all of my personal struggles worth it in the end.

Even though my supervisors had sent a postgraduate student to meet me at the airport and take me for a welcome lunch on campus, I quickly realized how isolated and different I was from everyone else. Weekends on campus continued to feel a bit lonely as students would go home to visit family when classes ended Saturday afternoon and they were my link to the outside world. I want to make it clear that I never once felt unsafe, just so very different and isolated. It made it tough to explore the village of Sawangi, let alone attempt to travel into the town of Wardha nearby.

Weekdays were a whole different story- each day was packed and there were plenty of students and doctors around to keep me company and busy. The universal language of medicine in India is ENGLISH so you will have no problem understanding the clinical notes, but you won’t be able to communicate with many patients (I had 2 that spoke some English). You might have more patient interaction if you speak Hindi, but not everyone will be fluent. The staff were all very friendly and helpful and because the village really just contains the medical school, the hospital and a bunch of housing for students and doctors, word quickly spread about this visiting Australian student so everyone knew who I was and was eager to help me.

Rather than choosing an area of focus, I elected to get as much experience in as many different wards as possible. In each of these wards, I saw signs and symptoms we just don’t get the opportunity to see in a developed setting. I spent time in general surgery watching hydrocele removals, palpable murmurs from rheumatic heart disease in the cardiothoracic surgery, many cases of somatization in the psychiatry ward, grade 3 splenomegaly in the general medicine department, sickle cell clinics, and other areas. I even met a visiting psychiatrist turned Bollywood star who was visiting the hospital. How’s that for an Indian experience? Drs. Quazi and Gaidhane gave me the freedom to tell them what I was interested in and allowed me to direct my own learning, which I thought was an incredible opportunity. The whole hospital opened it arms and welcomed me. I also got involved in some research during my placement and am in the midst of writing a case report.

The accommodation and food were all excellent during my stay. I was at the Health Club Guest House, which included a single room and a TV with 3 English channels (trust me- you’ll appreciate this in the evenings and on weekends). There was also a gym across the lawn which was a great way to meet some fellow students and stave off the boredom at night. The food available on campus was all fantastic and there were a lot of good places in the village as well, although it took me a couple of weeks to figure out which ones were safe. Many of the students will only drink bottled water, etc. so you can generally trust their recommendations for dining, you just have to ask. There are also a number of good restaurants in nearby Wardha, which I only discovered after befriending some of the MBBS students. Note that there was no internet in the guest house and computer access was only available from 10-5, so plan on bringing an iPad or laptop if you want to Skype friends from the food court at night.

Aside from my academic experiences, my supervisors made sure I had a chance to explore the area as well. On a couple occasions, I went to even more rural areas of Maharashtra with various outreach programs. While my contribution to and understanding of the clinical procedures was limited due to the language barrier, it gave me the opportunity to see more of the state. Drs. Quazi and Gaidhane also made sure I got a chance to visit the major tourist sites that Wardha has to offer: the Vinoba Bhave ashram and Ghandi’s ashram from which he spent many years running the country. They also encouraged me to take a trip to Mumbai during a long weekend, which was a nice break from the small village life.

All in all, the placement was a fantastic experience that I would highly recommend to anyone. Bear in mind that much of the loneliness I experienced was a result of being the only student on the placement. I’m sure this would not be as much of an issue if you were travelling in a pair. That being said, there will be many challenges and India is a very different country to Australia. I can guarantee you have never been anywhere like it. India is a country of extremes: everywhere you go in the country will have a different feel, taste, look, culture, language and vibe. It makes it an incredible and challenging place to visit. As long as you go there prepared for that challenge and open-minded about India’s differences to our Western society you will have a ball."