At the end of July, three British medical students set off for Poland, looking forward to a week at a student camp for Polish medical and allied health professional students. Sally (a third year who studies in Liverpool), David (a first year from Brighton) and myself (a second year) spent a week in the lovely little village of Uniejów, famous for its thermal springs.
The camp was organised by the Polish branch of the Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF), and was open to students at any stage – we had students from all five years, every one of us keen to expand and consolidate our existing knowledge and skills. There were three UK students, one from Germany and about twelve Polish students, as well as six Polish doctors (two of whom currently practice in England), so we were spoilt for attention and contact time! All of the Polish people were friendly and welcoming, and really made an effort to get to know us and make sure we were happy. The amount of English spoken by the local students varied, but they all made a really good effort to speak English so we could understand – and they even taught us a few Polish phrases! The medical training was conducted in Polish, but we were extremely grateful for one of the doctors who translated for us, so we didn’t miss out on anything. Over the week, we had five full days of medical training, Bible talks and free time for exploring and activities.
A typical day would start with a Bible talk by Dr Pawluk (who specialises in Diabetes at Scarborough, and is also involved in the CMF group there) explaining what it means to be a Christian and follow Jesus. He took us through various examples of Jesus’ healings in the Bible and used these to discuss how we should be hoping to act as doctors, and what an ideal attitude in the medical environment would be. It was interesting as not all the students were Christian, and many had different faiths or no faith, yet when it came to the discussion, we could all contribute and came up with remarkably similar responses.
After the Bible talk, we would have a quick break before starting our medical training for the day – believe it or not, the Polish have something called ‘second breakfast’, which is a more substantial version of a mid- morning snack, to tide them over until a late lunch. The medical training was varied and a great way to refresh our memories after a summer off from University. Throughout the week, we covered history taking and communication skills, emergency medical training, ultrasound, ECGs, diabetes and working abroad (medical mission).
Of these, the emergency medical training was my favourite – we were split into two groups (English-speaking and Polish- speaking) and were given a map of the area with four points where we would find various scenarios that we had to deal with. Our group comprised of the three British students, the German student and two Polish students who spoke the best English. Some of the scenarios we had to deal with involved a man crushed by a tree, an emotionally unstable man about to commit suicide, and a car crash with 4 casualties, among them an epileptic and a baby! This training was so great because of the effort put in to make things seem ‘real’ – a make-up artist created all the ‘casualties’ (i.e. the Polish doctors) and the scene set up was so convincing that several passers-by stopped and offered to help! After we’d had a go at each check point, the ‘casualties’ would explain to us what we did well and what we should/should not have done, and then we would get the chance to repeat our first aid on one area where we thought we needed practise! It was a fantastic way to spend 4 hours; between the numerous scenarios and battling the lethal combination of mosquitoes, sun and a 33°C heat, it was certainly an intense morning but well worth the exertion!
Lunch, the main meal of the day, was late by British standards, and often we didn’t eat until 3pm (thank goodness for the second breakfast!). We were introduced to Polish cuisine and tried a variety of foods, including pierogi (dumplings). The Polish also drink copious amounts of black tea – it is unheard of to drink this with milk, but they were very hospitable and went to great pains to offer us some!
After lunch we had free time and the organisers found some great activities for us, including a tour of the town, swimming at the natural hot spring water resort and kayaking down the river (and getting caught in a thunderstorm midway downstream!). This free time provided a chance to get to know people and build friendships. On our penultimate night we had a bonfire where we cooked Polish sausages and had a picnic outside before going for a midnight swim in the river. The UK students also introduced our new friends to smores – they had never heard of them before, so we bought supplies at the local shop and made some for them all – they went down very well!
Overall, it was a fantastic week – I feel incredibly privileged to have been part of the camp this summer. I made some great friends with whom I was able to have meaningful conversations about worldviews, faith and the value of life. I learnt some new clinical skills and formed some new opinions on various aspects of clinical practice (through copious discussions with students and doctors who all had astonishing stories to tell). I arrived home with more than just a few photos and some Polish phrases scribbled in a notebook, having had a great time getting to know the local people and culture, refreshing some of my medical knowledge and skills, and seeing how Doctors can show and use their faith in their work. I loved the opportunity to go abroad, to learn from those with more experience, and to see how truly unique the NHS is when compared with other healthcare systems. Getting involved in such a camp is an experience that I would definitely recommend – you only need to spare one week next summer!
CMF has helped organise teams of students and doctors to join medical student camps and conferences in Eastern Europe and Central Asia – students travelling overseas have not only the chance to learn but also to serve others, as well as growing within their own faith. There are several opportunities each summer to go on these trips; you can see the CMF website for more information.
If you want to know more about CMF, or are interested in joining, St Andrews CMF group meet at Friday lunchtimes in Seminar Room 1 at 13.15 – come along and find out what we’re all about!