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Future Focus: Lucy Brown

Final year medical student at the University of Adelaide, Lucy Brown, has returned from Fiji, where she completed her elective.

Packing her bags with medical supplies to donate, Lucy worked alongside the Loloma Foundation on Taveuni Island, Fiji and was exposed to a range of surgical procedures including assisting with an emergency caesarean section.

The Loloma Foundation

Thanks to the BOQ Future Focus Grant I had the privilege of travelling to Fiji to complete my elective, along with two other medical students from the University of Adelaide. The Loloma Foundation is a California based not-for-profit organisation which has been operating in Fiji and the Solomon Islands for the last 21 years. Each year they organise surgical volunteers from different specialties to travel to Taveuni Island to perform lifesaving surgery for the local community. I was fortunate to witness reconstructive surgery, hand surgery, ear nose and throat surgery as well as obstetrics and gynaecology.

 

Taveuni Island is the third largest island of Fiji and home to 9,000 people. Despite this, the island only has one health centre with a general practice clinic and no surgical care available. There is surgery available on the larger islands however there are long waitlists and the travel costs for many people is too great. As a result, the surgical care provided by the Loloma Foundation is invaluable to the community and sees patients travel from all over Fiji to access care during the weeks that the foundation operates at the health centre.

 

Part of the surgical team

I had the opportunity to scrub-in to surgical cases, assist with preoperative tasks including intubations of patients for general anaesthetic as well as assisting with the post operative patient monitoring and daily surgical ward rounds. Being a part of each step of the surgical journey gave me a holistic view and taught me so much about problem solving, working under pressure, and the important skill of knowing when to advise against surgery when the risks outweigh the benefits. It was incredible to work with a different surgical team each week and learn from experienced surgeons, anaesthetists, physiotherapists, and surgical nurses, many of whom have volunteered for years, giving up their annual leave each year.

 

Hands-on experience

During the first two weeks of my elective, a team of plastics and orthopaedic surgeons were operating, predominantly doing reconstructive hand surgery. It was interesting to see a wide variety of presentations, many of which were different types of contractures caused by burns, and it was extremely rewarding to see the recovery patients made and the functional gain the surgery had allowed them. In the third week, a team including an ear nose and throat surgeon operated, in which the majority of cases were total thyroidectomy surgeries. Coming from Australia where thyroid problems are usually detected and treated early it was vastly different to see thyroid surgeries take up to four hours due to the years in which the thyroid issue had been left untreated. In the final week of my elective, a large team of obstetricians and gynaecologists arrived. The highlight of this final week was the chance to assist in an emergency caesarean section and be there for the delivery of a healthy baby as well as watch multiple abdominal hysterectomies over the course of the week.

Enjoying Fiji

I spent some of my time in Fiji at a homestay and was warmly welcomed into the communal family home of one of the nurses from the hospital. During the evenings we were treated to a variety of Fijian foods including plantain, taro leaf and fresh seafood and enjoyed watching the rugby alongside the family after meal times. On the weekends we had the opportunity to explore the local area around the hospital including travelling to a nearby waterfall, hiking up to a beautiful lookout and shopping at the local markets. A highlight of the trip was a daytrip to the Boma waterfalls at the top of the island along with the ENT surgical team.

 

Conclusion

Patients often travelled 20+ hours by ferry to attend the hospital for surgery, and stayed at the hospital for a week as the ferry only ran on a weekly basis. As a result, I had the opportunity to follow patients in their recovery and help with outpatient tasks. It was extremely rewarding to get to know some of the patients and hear their stories. The strength, stoicism and bravery shown by many patients, despite very difficult and often dire circumstances, has profoundly changed how I view my own privilege. Travelling to Fiji for this placement was my first exposure to medical aid work and has opened my eyes to the opportunities available to volunteer as a medical professional, something I hope to continue to do in my future. Seeing first-hand how healthcare in a developing nation works has also given me a profound appreciation for the robust healthcare system we take for granted in Australia. I thoroughly enjoyed my surgical elective at Waiveyo Hospital on Taveuni Island and am so grateful for the BOQ Future Focus Grant for helping to make this a reality.

Developed exclusively for medical and dental students, each year the BOQ Specialist FutureFocus grants provide students with the opportunity to undertake an elective so that their commitment to helping others can be realised. Applications for our FutureFocus grant will open in June 2023. 

You can also access funds to help undertake an overseas placement, with our Student Banking Package.

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