I was placed in Kumamoto, in the of the southern island of Kyushu. It has a population of around 700,000, which is a lot bigger than my home town. It is classed as a ‘rural’ town, being surrounded by beautiful mountains and laced with thousands of rice fields and sakura (cherry blossom). It is home to extensive history shown through the endless shrines and the 400 year old castle and township. The lack of foreigners was different at first, but I came to love the uniqueness and serenity of this small town. Alongside it being small, the range of languages spoken was quite minimal, which encouraged me to learn as much Japanese as I could so I could communicate within my placement and out in the community.
I worked in one of Kumamoto’s biggest hospitals, Saiseikai Kumamoto Hospital, where the standards were high and the staff were unbelievably talented. The technology in this hospital was astounding, providing care and resources beyond what I’ve seen.
The hospital specialised mainly in the care of older patients, so the majority of my duties were based around patient care such as transporting patients between wards or testing rooms, showering and cleanliness of patients and beds, assisting patients when walking throughout the wards and even just talking to the patients. On the less medical side of things, I also helped out with the hospitals ‘Dementia Recreation’ program, where we sat down with a small group of patients and just went through small games, sang songs and just got the patients talking. This was very rewarding work as it gave me a better understanding of the roles non-clinical staff do, and how it can affect a patients life within the hospital. I definitely got a lot of smiles out of those sessions!
I also got to assist with trauma round, seeing the most severe cases in the hospital. I was allowed to assist the doctors by providing their tools to tend to patient wounds and really see up close what the doctor was doing, as well as see the steps of patient recovery. At the other end of the scale I got to volunteer in the staff nursery located in the hospital. This was a good balance between seriousness within the hospital and having a bit of a rest while hanging out with some cool kids!
I don’t think I can pinpoint one favourite moment however! Being able to see surgeries is probably a biggie though, I would never have had the opportunity to do that at home, and I have learnt so much from it. From orthopaedic surgery, to open heart, to even brain surgery; seeing the surgeons and nurses in action was an incredible experience and has sparked an interest in a field I didn’t know too much about.
Now, I am currently in my first year of university, studying a Bachelors of Health Science, with the hopes of getting accepted in to medicine next year. From being in the medical placement in Japan it enabled me to get a first hand insight of what the roles of the doctors, surgeons, nurses and other staff were, and gave me a better understanding of how they contributed to the health system, as well as helping patients in their road to recovery. I got to experience what the different wards within the hospital did, such as neurology, cardiovascular, oncology, ER, surgery and orthopaedic wards, seeing the differences in care and expertise provided by the staff, which gave me a new appreciation for the work that goes on in those places, as well as let me know if I want to spend the rest of my life in that area of work.
Also coming back home and starting University after a gap year I was a little sceptic about studying after a year off, as I thought I would be in the small minority that would have done that. Boy was I wrong! So many other students I had talked to, even within the first day, had come from a range of different backgrounds. Some have come straight out of school, but others have taken a gap year, or sometimes two or three, and using it for volunteering and to gain life experience, as well as using it to see the world.