Struggling to find your passion? An internship abroad might actually be just the trick for you to find it. Read Aghnia’s story as a medical intern in Berlin, and how it helped her cement her passion for a subset of paediatric.
As an aspiring medical doctor, the sooner the better it is for you to know precisely which areas you want to specialize in. The career options you have as a medical doctor are extensive and it is wise to invest time in thinking about it thoroughly as it takes years for you to qualify as a full-fledged doctor in your field of choice and it eventually becomes a lifelong profession of yours. In my final year of school, I only knew that my fascination is with paediatric, a section of medical care devoted for children. Although I had narrowed down the field, I still had so many different career options as I could focus on either medication treatment, surgical operations or even the overall healthcare system – and I had to commit myself to just one! This was the reason why I started to look around for opportunities to explore myself, try things out and eventually understand which subset of paediatric it is that I actually love most.
Pursuing an Internship in Berlin
Having largely dealt with adults at medical school and in initial hospital posts, thoughts of having to deal with newborns and children were enough to bring me in a cold sweat. Yet, in early 2016, I thought I would challenge myself and deepen my understanding of paediatric to ultimately enhance my overall confidence in handling hospital settings. I then looked for an opportunity to obtain a medical internship abroad, and this is specifically also to better understand healthcare in a global context, broaden my horizons and expand my perspective as a physician. My expectation was that the internship opportunity would enable me to cement my passion for healthcare and allow me to settle on something I thoroughly enjoy doing.
My search began from several opened tabs on my computer under the keywords “paediatric internship Europe/US/Asia”. It yielded hundreds and hundreds of articles, I must say, and it led me to unearthing various opportunities offered by universities in Europe and organizations worldwide. There were numerous types of medical internships, differing in terms of things like salary, accountability mechanisms, and duration. A handful of information on my hands, I finally made the decision to apply for a medical internship through an organization called International Federation of Medical Students’ Association (IFMSA), which is the biggest medical students association worldwide. Endorsed by The World Federation on Medical Education, IFMSA provides numerous medical internship opportunities worldwide.
I chose to apply for Paediatric Surgery in Germany, one of the leading countries when it comes to medicine, especially surgical operations which are especially taxing and full of intricate details. Assisted by the regional officer of IFMSA, I went through the selection process. The first stage was the document selection. If you are looking to apply to this, please do make a mental note that you have to be at least a final year medical student because they need people whom are already experienced with patients and instrumentation. Having passed the document selection stage, I then went through an interview with the head of Bundesvertretung der Medizinstudierenden in Deutschland e.V. During the interview, we mainly discussed the linearity of my background with the internship opportunity I was applying for, my motivation for joining the program, and my future aspirations in the field of medicine. Although there are plenty of internship opportunities available for the surgery area, there is hardly any program available for paediatric surgery because they felt involving a beginner might compromise the sanctity of surgeries itself. Notwithstanding, I was finally elected to be on the program. There was a catch: I did not get chosen for the program I actually really wanted to, paediatric. Yet, I was persistent on having my medical internship only in the field I wanted to! I know you must be thinking about how stubborn I am, but in my defense they did offer the chance and also the organization was willing to assist me throughout the whole process. I had to undergo additional selections by the professor, as well as hand in three writing samples and had a Skype interview. The overall process lasted three months, but it paid off big time as in March 2016 I was announced as the first ever Asian to obtain the opportunity to pursue a medical internship in Kinderchirurgie Sana Klinikum Lichtenberg, Berlin, Germany!
The program took place from May to July 2016. The significant portions of my work included assisting patients during their pre-surgery preparations, observe the actual running of the surgeries, doing post-surgery follow-ups, and practicing until I can get my hands on everything I have come to learn about. Of course, the hardest part was the interactions with all the children because of the language barriers. I did not speak German, and by the same token they also did not speak any word of English. A simple “Haben Sie Schmerzen?” or “Was haben Sie für Symptome?” were my only tricks to open up conversations and then the Oberarzt would help do a follow up if necessary. The colleagues were all very friendly, helpful, and made me feel that I was really an organic part of the team as we discussed actual cases, did a work-up, and sometime stole bits of sleep time in between surgeries.
There were enough challenging cases to keep me on my toes as a ward which made it all interesting, and fortunately they did not overwhelm me. I still had the opportunity to have lunch and coffee with other interns in the Werkkantine or sat by the garden near a children’s park watching them playing, sometimes with their intravenous lines tagging along.
The time during my internship was rewarding, not least because I was able to perform a surgery on children equipped with advanced medical instruments and techniques under supervision. I loved it. It also gave me the opportunity to develop my creativity, as well as critical thinking and interpersonal skills. The interactions with the children also increased my German language skills, and I definitely recount all the times we sat together in a playroom as they spelled out “Eins…Zwei…Drei…” for me.
Seeing how much I loved it, I was shocked myself to arrive at a conclusion that I didn’t really want to become a paediatric surgeon afterall. Hippocrates was true, Ex toto non sic pueri ut viri curari debent, that boys should not be treated in the same way as men. Most of them share the same characteristics no matter what nationalities they hold and languages they spoke. Shrieking, crying, and the errant stream of bodily fluid that will disrupt the occasional workday constitute their daily intakes. Their parents’ eyes also concurrently show worries and fear, although sparks of strength and hope still surface. As agonizing as it can be, I finally made the decision that I would rather devote myself to work on a field making sure that unnecessary misfortune to children do not occur at the very first place, especially in Indonesia, because sometimes they are. .
As I am writing this, I am currently focusing myself on health policy regulations, specifically on reducing child mortality rate. It is still a journey, but as the saying goes, life is a journey and if you fall in love with the journey, you will be in love forever. And currently, I am in love.
Photo provided by author.