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COFFEE CLINIC builds confidence

Agnes Alpuerto and Say Tola / Khmer Times Share:
General Medicine student Chao Solyda talks with her Spanish patient during last week’s Coffee Clinic. Say Tola

It isn’t a secret that Cambodia’s medical sector is still expanding. But there is more to be done in hospitals and clinics and certainly more training is needed for doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners. The first batch of general medicine students in the University of Puthisastra, however, have gone one step further. As future medical doctors in the Kingdom, they held a medical mission to prove that they’re ready for the real work awaiting them. Agnes Alpuerto and Say Tola visited their Coffee Clinic.

The medical world isn’t just tough. It’s a risky sphere; a craft that requires only perfect execution. Diagnosing a sick person – whether as minor as fever or as severe as a viral infection that has affected the brain – gives no room for a doctor to make a faulty prognosis. In his hands lie the lives of the people. And that’s not even an exaggeration.

But even with the demanding and strenuous job of being a doctor, not to mention the grueling years one has to go through to become one, competition has always remained high. Each year, medical schools produce hundreds of medical graduates ever so ready to take on the world and heal patients. For most, wearing the doctor’s overalls with stethoscopes hanging over the necks have become more of a profession. “Good doctors understand responsibility better than privilege and practice accountability better than business,” reads one quote. And the students of University of Puthisastra’s Department of Medicine know this too well.

One of the student doctors of the medical mission listens to her patient as she explains her health concerns. Photo: Say Tola

Being the first batch of the university’s medical doctor programme, general medicine students hold with them both the responsibility and hope to create a better future for the medical sector in the Kingdom. So aside from gaining the right knowledge and experiences, UP medical students are required to represent the school and their future profession in the most confident way. After all, patients will entrust their lives only to a doctor that shows confidence and utmost conviction on what he or she does.

“You won’t go to a doctor who’s shy and meek, right? It’s your life that’s on the line, so you will really look for somebody who is confident-looking and who has the knowledge in the field,” says Shauna Mahony, UP instructor for the Future Healthcare Leadership Programme.

With this, Shauna and six of her students created Coffee Clinic – a one-day free medical mission where the future medical practitioners get to talk with patients who have varied health problems (plus a cup of hot latte or Frappuccino for every patient).

Last week’s event was focused on giving the students the chance to encounter foreign patients who come from different backgrounds and with different medical complaints.

Three tables were set in front of the UP building. Beside the ‘consultation area’ was the kiosk that offered the free drinks.

Shauna Mahony (center) created Coffee Clinic to give her students an avenue to practice their skills and gain confidence in talking with patients. Photo: Say Tola

And one by one, foreigners came in and talked with the doctors-to-be.

Chao Solyda attended to Spanish-born Alicia Lerua, who shared about her gynaecological problems.

“After giving her all my health information, she gave me her ideas on what could be wrong with my health. I didn’t think she struggled with anything that she wanted to say. As a future doctor, I appreciated the fact that she was not trying to force me into any medication. She also believed that we should not be taking medicines for every single thing we feel in our body,” Alicia said, adding that Solyda exuded confidence as she explained her medical understanding on her patient’s case.

The 25-year-old general medicine student said she was satisfied with how her consultation with her first foreign patient went.

“I was a bit nervous, but I am confident with my skills and with my knowledge. I gave her my ideas,” Solyda said.

In another table, 24-year-old Ratana talked with another Spanish expatriate. Ratana, after listening intently to her patient’s story, drew on paper an image of the ovary. She explained how ovaries work and how they affect the body of females.

“The main cause of her problem is related to the ovary. I explained to her the anatomy of the menstrual period cycle. I already studied about this on the previous years so I know how to deal with the kind of situation,” said Ratana.

“I feel a little shy because I never had consultation with a foreigner before. I was used to dealing with Khmer patients in the province or in the hospital. But it was a really good experience for me and for my batchmates. I learned to be confident on the way I talked with the patient.”

According to Shauna, the Coffee Clinic was organised for seventh year general medicine students who enrolled in her Future Healthcare Leadership Programme. She emphasised that the programme does not dwell on medical terminologies or practices that students need to learn as future medical practitioners.

“It’s a very unique course. It’s a five-month course with clinical trials and English skills trainings. It’s tailor-made because the students are about to graduate next year. We’re training them to be confident, presentable and fluent as they talk with different kinds of patients in the future,” Shauna said.

The programme can be likened to a personality development subject of other degree programmes, where students learn how to carry themselves in front of other people, how they engage in conversations and how they build their characters especially when they go into the real, professional world.

Within five months, the student doctors of UP attend two sessions weekly. Shauna said that the programme is designed to not interrupt the students from their internships in different hospitals in Phnom Penh, but to enhance their skills as they talk with real patients with real illnesses. Even the way the students stand and shake the hands of their patients are strictly taught by Shauna.

“These students are really driven. I can see how they’re trying to do their best to speak English and show their confident selves in all our activities. If they finish this programme, they will get their choice of placements – Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong or locally here in Cambodia. They’re really motivated to do well in this field that they’ve chosen.”

A year from now, the student doctors will be marching towards the real medical world – where they will be dealing with more medical jargons, newly discovered diseases and medicines, scientific researches, friendly and irritable patients, and a work environment full of ethical and moral challenges.

Whether they decide to stay and practice their profession in the country or prosper elsewhere, the Coffee Clinic students know they’re bringing with them the learnings, experiences and their confident professional selves as they get officially called doctors.

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