Chelane is pursuing a doctorate degree in Pharmacy at the University of Utah. She recently traveled with other Pharmacy students to Thailand to complete a clerkship.
The most common question asked of me when I returned from my 4 weeks in Thailand was, “What does going to Thailand have to do with Pharmacy?” The University of Utah Study Abroad program offers a great opportunity for pharmacy students to travel to Thailand for an elective rotation that focuses on disease states rarely, if ever, seen in the United States. I completely understand where the question comes from, however. I was also wondering what we could really learn from the experience and I walked away profoundly impressed.
Working in healthcare, you find yourself becoming less and less surprised by the things that you see. You get to a point where you think you’ve probably seen it all, and if you haven’t, you’ve at least seen something like it. In Thailand I was surprised almost daily by the things we were shown. The main portion of the rotation consisted of being taught by and working with Thai healthcare providers about malaria, dengue fever, HIV and AIDs, tuberculosis and leprosy. It is possible to see these diseases in the U.S., yes, but the occasion is rare by comparison.
Thailand deals with these diseases regularly, and we were able to see the ways that this wonderful country has had to work to solve the problems associated with these diseases. We spent a day in a compound that has been organized into an AIDS hospice program and saw the compassion of the monks and healthcare volunteers who spent a great amount of time with their patients up until they died. We were able to get a different viewpoint of the effect of AIDS when we spent a day playing with children at an AIDS orphanage. The 64 children we played with all either have AIDS (the majority), or their parents died of AIDS and left them with nothing. The existence of this orphanage is something I’d never imagined as necessary, but for the sake of those amazing children, I’m glad someone had the insight to build it.
Other days were spent visiting hospitals and seeing patients with tuberculosis that was resistant to all medications, patients being diagnosed with or suffering from malaria, children who have been in the hospital for weeks due to dengue, or going to a leprosy clinic and seeing patient and after patient suffering from leprosy. Nothing could have prepared me for the man who was dying from tuberculosis who weighed a mere 80 pounds, despite being over 6 feet tall. I never imagined I’d see so many living with leprosy, let alone all in one day. Those who were able to travel to Thailand on this rotation will never forget these opportunities.