The aim is to support the British Red Cross’s campaigns locally as well as appeals for humanitarian action abroad in case of conflict and natural disasters.
Wadham medical finalist James Kuht (Clinical Medicine) has just returned from an elective placement where he spent a month at the Mexican Red Cross, working in the emergency department and with the ambulance service in what was a pilot run of the exchange programme, organised by Daniel.
Red Cross on Campus hopes to recruit volunteer students on University campuses across Britain, organizing lectures, campaigns and fund raising events. For further information contact firstname.lastname@example.org
James Kuht’s account of his Cruz Roja Mexicana medical exchange
As an Oxford University medical student, once final exams are passed you are given the opportunity to head on any placement that suit your interests, anywhere in the world. To be given a free reign to choose anything, anywhere, is a daunting task, but by choosing to spend a month with the Mexican Red Cross, working in their trauma-focused hospital in Mexico City, and also in their sister ambulance service, I truly don’t think I could have made a better choice.
Being pretty new to the Red Cross family, an intermediate level Spanish speaker at a push, and with Mexico City not exactly being famed for its safe streets, the placement was daunting initially, but as soon as I reached the hospital and was shown to my dormitory, shared with several friendly doctors, and greeted like an old friend by the director of the hospital, I knew that though this placement would be anything but easy, support would always be at hand.
In the entirety of my 6 year medical training in England I can count on one hand the number of wounds I’ve sutured, whereas in three night shifts in Mexico City I sutured in excess of twenty!
I split my time in the city between working in the hospital Emergency department/operating theatre, and the ambulance service. The hospital work entailed some pretty hefty shifts, with the typical rota giving you a 32hr+ shift, followed by a normal working day, followed by day off, repeated without breaks for weekends. Of course this doesn’t give you much opportunity for sleep, but this was outweighed by the exposure to considerable amounts of trauma, which was entirely the reason I was there. To illustrate the sheer volume of experience I gained, in the entirety of my 6 year medical training in England I can count on one hand the number of wounds I’ve sutured, whereas in three night shifts in Mexico city I sutured in excess of twenty! Couple this with the experience of managing injuries from gunshots to stabbings and road traffic accidents, scenarios which are comparatively rare in England, and you can immediately see the immeasurable value of such an exchange. The Mexican doctors have such a high level of exposure to trauma that their practical skills are second to none, and I feel privileged to have been taught by them.
My time in the Ambulance service was no less exciting. Six shifts in seven days gave me a city sightseeing tour like no other, hurtling through gridlocked streets, picking up patients often from extremely poor backgrounds/areas with complex medical problems that were largely unmanaged due to not being able to afford to see a GP, or with acute traumatic injuries. I attended car crashes and shootings amongst other emergencies, and got entirely stuck in, involved in everything from practical hands on work putting up drips or taking readings of vital signs, to discussing decisions on the provision of care in transit. It was absolutely fascinating, and the teamwork on display by the paramedics was inspiring.
On a more general note I have to talk about how much of a family feel the Mexican Red Cross has. With over 400 medical facilities across the country it clearly has a rather different role to the British Red Cross, but the sense of belonging and pride in this wonderful organisation is not diminished by the sheer size & staff numbers of the Mexican Red Cross. In the hospital, a staff canteen means all meals (invariably a variation on tacos!) are eaten together by all levels of staff from cleaner to consultant surgeon, and it was not hard to make friends at all, despite my presumably painful Spanish accent! By the end of the stay I had so many invitations to visit people’s houses that I would have needed to extend my stay to the end of the year to follow all of them up on their kind offers.
Other than being a willing extra pair of hands, with my background as a Physiology graduate I was also kindly given the opportunity to deliver a lecture on body temperature regulation with regards to hyper- and hypo-thermia, which was attended by more than 100 staff members in the hospital, whilst also explaining the role of the British Red Cross and the similarities/differences to the Mexican Red Cross. This was perhaps the biggest challenge of them all, with my Spanish well and truly exposed for all to see, but it was an honour to be given such a reception.
I am blown away by the hospitality of the staff in the Mexican Red Cross, and am truly indebted to their allowing my involvement. Needless to say this placement will have made me a better doctor in the future and has improved my Spanish no end, but more importantly I hope it’s also created a bond between the British and Mexican Red Cross that can give rise to other similar exchanges in both directions, as we are all brothers and sisters within this organisation, and have an awful lot to learn from one another.