As my flight landed in Tel Aviv, Israel after more than 10 hours of travelling from Toronto, Canada, I felt both excitement and nerves about what the next two weeks would have in store during my medical elective with Save a Child’s Heart at the Wolfson Medical Centre in Holon, Israel. Having just completed my second year of medical school I was looking forward to observing the healthcare system in an international country and applying my knowledge of pediatric congenital heart disease across clinical encounters. My weekly schedule generally included sitting in on morning interdisciplinary meetings or lectures, shadowing residents in the pediatric ICU, and observing in the echo clinic, catheterization lab and operating room. The clinical cases I was exposed to provided valuable educational opportunities while challenging and exciting me, and I received valuable experience in preparation for beginning my clinical rotations in the upcoming academic year.
In addition to my medical internship at the hospital, I also had the opportunity to live in the children’s home and spend my evenings and weekends playing and volunteering with the patients who travelled to Israel from their native countries in order to receive their life-saving medical care. This provided me with the unique opportunity to get to know the children in a playful environment and then carry this knowledge into my clinical encounters with them at the hospital. This allowed me to view the patients from a much more personal perspective. No patient was just defined by their medical condition, because I also knew about each child’s personality, who their friends were in the house, or their favourite free-time activities. One particular experience that highlights this occurred when shadowing in the pediatric ICU and seeing one of the children from the house, Asya, a quiet and reserved 13 year-old girl from Tanzania. Asya was all by herself in the ICU without any activities or stimulation during her recovery. The other medical interns and I were able to return the next day and give Asya activities such as colouring books and stickers to help her pass the time. Even though there was a language barrier between us and Asya, her smile and facial expressions demonstrated that we had helped make a positive impact on her care. After her return to the SACH home, Asya was more open and playful with the volunteers and other children in the house. I learned that medical care is not just about providing a diagnosis and treatment, but also engaging with the patient in a way that makes them feel comfortable and supported. This will be an important lesson I carry with me moving forward in my medical career, as I will strive to bring compassion and personal interactions into patient encounters.
Another highlight of this experience was meeting patients and their families during the weekly Palestinian clinic, which treats patients that travel to Holon from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. I had the opportunity to spend time with the family of one of the patients, who politely offered to teach me some words in Arabic! I also overheard the father of the patient speaking with the medical team in fluent Hebrew, to my surprise. Sitting amidst this clinic filled with people of different languages, religions, and backgrounds, I could not imagine any medical experience that more exemplifies the meaning of putting differences aside in order to treat all patients with respect, dignity and equality.
My final memory of SACH is an experience that occurred on my last night living in the house before I would be departing for Canada the next morning. It was late at night and I had just finished packing my suitcase and came downstairs to the common area for a glass of water. Sitting there was one of the anesthesiologists who had spent hours with me earlier that morning in the operating room explaining details to me and educating me as I observed my first Fontan procedure. The physician was very kind, making conversation with me (in my pyjamas) about my experience in Israel and urging me to stay in contact in the future for any guidance I may need. I was struck by the realization of the uniqueness of this organization, one which brings medical students and physicians together in an effort to collaborate, learn, teach, and heal. The culture and community created by SACH is very welcoming and inspiring, and I look forward to the next opportunity to stay involved in the future!