Dr. Ketan Nadkarni was a recipient of the Dr. Charles A. Sanders and Project HOPE International Residency Scholarship 2016 while he was a resident in pediatrics at the University of North Carolina. He worked at Project HOPE’s program site in Shanghai. The scholarship is endowed by the North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation and is offered to medical residents and fellows studying at one of North Carolina's four medical schools.
When I saw an email in Mandarin with the English words "Welcome Ketan," my heart skipped a beat, excited to think I might be in line for what would be the experience of a lifetime. This past September I spent one month living in Shanghai and rotating through Shanghai Children's Medical Center (SCMC) as part of the Dr. Charles A. Sanders and Project HOPE International Residency Scholarship program. I spent time working on the general ward team, pulmonary department, hematology-oncology and Traditional Chinese Medicine clinic.
My favorite part of the medical experience was working in the Traditional Chinese Medicine clinic. I had the opportunity to learn acupuncture, tuina (therapeutic massage) and herbal therapy, in addition to the principles governing them. Kids with conditions such as asthma, allergies, tics, headaches and insomnia were treated in ways completely opposite from Western medicine tactics. Instead of pharmacotherapy, patients were treated holistically.
I saw significant improvement in patients before my own eyes, and even learned how to perform basic acupuncture. This intrigued me so much that I brought this experience and knowledge back to North Carolina with me, and taught my colleagues through a presentation. This experience opened my eyes to alternative medical management and has caused me to have a more open mind when approaching these common pediatric conditions.
In addition to working at SCMC for the month, I had the opportunity to learn about Chinese culture through travel. China is a beautiful and vast country, filled with ancient history, magnificent sights and delicious food. I spent a weekend in Beijing, and walked the Great Wall of China. This was one of my bucket list items and I cannot describe in words how it felt to be on top of the world. It seemingly stretched on for an eternity and was truly surreal to be at the same site that defended the Ming Dynasty centuries ago.
I also visited the Forbidden City and Tienamen Square while in Beijing. On a different weekend, I took a train into beautiful Hangzhou, an ancient city, home to the famous West Lake, towering pagodas, beautiful shrines and heaps of history.
Lastly, Shanghai itself had so much to offer that I never ran out of things to see. The Pudong skyline is like a rainbow that lights up the sky at night, while the Jing'an temple and Yuyuan gardens draw thousands of visitors a day. One of my favorite activities was getting lost in the city, and finding hidden gem family-run restaurants with the best xiaolongbao (steamed dumplings) you can imagine. Additionally, the people in Shanghai, particularly at the hospital, were incredibly hospitable. I was treated with nothing but respect and kindness.
However, this experience did not come without obstacles. The most significant obstacle was the language barrier. Whether it was on hospital rounds, at restaurants, or on public transportation, not being able to communicate in Mandarin or Shanghainese made daily life a lot more difficult.
There was also a great deal of culture shock and isolation that comes with any long travel experience. It was challenging being away from family, friends, colleagues and the friendly confines of UNC Children's Hospital. Trying new food on a daily basis was eye opening, especially with meat and vegetables I had never seen before.
Lastly, being in a city with over 25 million people was overwhelming at times, making my hometown of Chicago feel minuscule (about 3 million). I bought a phrasebook to learn basic Mandarin, immersed myself in Chinese culture until it became second nature, and used the immense population to make as many new colleagues as possible. All in all, I feel that I came back to the U.S. more flexible and adaptable to new situations, ready to handle whatever I encountered with an open mind.
Thank you, Project HOPE and Dr. Charles Sanders, for an absolutely wonderful experience that made me grow and mature not only as a physician, but as a person as well. I look forward to future endeavors with Project HOPE and with global health in general.
Applications for the Dr. Charles A. Sanders and Project HOPE International Residency Scholarship 2017 are open until June 30, 2017.
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