Unlike other professions, having a medical degree does not guarantee work placement or clinical-based specialization training in other countries. The medical education system is different in each country, thus it is highly difficult to practice medicine outside your home country, unless you are willing to sit for a series of exams or matriculation process. However, as a medical student, you can have the opportunity to undergo clinical training in another country through IFMSA (International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations). IFMSA facilitates clinical exchange through its standing committee called SCOPE (Standing Committee on Professional Exchange).
Quoted from their website, the professional exchange program is a full educational program offering clerkships to medical students abroad. Annually, more than 13.000 students from 90 countries travel around the world to discover new health systems, new cultures and to enhance their global health and intercultural understanding. The SCOPE exchange program is a quality educational and cultural experience organized entirely by medical students with the help of their medical faculties. Since 2003 until today, 103.354 students went on exchange with SCOPE, in 98 National Member Organizations and 923 Local Committees & universities around the world. The aim of SCOPE is to promote cultural understanding and co-operation amongst medical students and all health professionals, through the facilitation of international student exchanges. SCOPE aims to give all students the opportunity to learn about global health, and attains this partly by having its exchanges accredited by medical faculties across the world.
What makes this program interesting is due to the fact that it is run entirely by students, for students. Therefore you will meet people your age and hang out with them on a daily basis. You will also be assigned to a supervisor and work with them throughout your office hours, therefore you can also learn from the experts. I had the opportunity to undergo the exchange program to Sivas, Turkey in 2015 and I have to say that this exchange is the best way to spend your summer holiday while recharging yourself before entering another term in medical school.
In Indonesia, this activity is hosted by CIMSA, which stands for Centre for Indonesian Medical Students’ Activity. CIMSA is available in selected medical schools all across Indonesia and in total there are 21 CIMSA local chapters in medical schools across Indonesia. You need to undergo a series of application process in order to become an exchange student. The application process opens a year prior to the exchange, for instance, if you want to go in 2018, you need to apply in 2017 in order to be eligible. Once you are chosen as an exchange participant, you need to pay the exchange fee, which cost €260 or Rp 3.900.000,- during my period. The exchange fee will cover your lodging for one month, meals in the hospital/dorm (this may differ in each country), and access to the hospital/campus. The fee does not exclude visa, pocket money, and flight tickets.
The Study Experience
I was placed in the Department of Dermatology, Cumhuriyet University Hospital. Dermatology is a branch of medicine that studies about skin, nails, and hair. This university is located in Sivas, a small town in central Turkey and the capital of Sivas Province. The city is very small and almost everyone knows each other. Even the local people said that you can go around Sivas on foot in a whole day! In total, there are 4 exchange students in Sivas during my period (summer 2015), two from Indonesia, one from Lithuania, and one from Brazil. During the exchange program, I lived in a dorm next to the hospital along with another exchange student from Lithuania and also with other local students. My primary contact was the Local Exchange Officer in Sivas and she often invited other TurkMSIC (CIMSA’s equivalent in Turkey) members and her friends to accompany the exchange students. People in the dorm are also very nice as they often invited me to join them for dinner.
I was assigned to a professor as my supervisor and on the daily basis, I worked along with a local student who was currently in Dermatology rotation. I worked 8.30 – 11.00 in the ward, attending ward rounds and taking care of patients in the ward. Later on from 13.00 to 16.00, I worked in the clinic along with the residents (medical doctors who are currently studying for a specialty). All of the patient care and teaching process were conducted in Turkish, but they always tried to explain every case in English once they have finished explaining in Turkish. Even patients often asked me where did I come from to the doctors and they did not felt bothered at all; one of them even said that they have met Indonesian people during the pilgrimage and she said that Indonesian people were very nice. My supervisor, senior doctors, professors, residents, and the local student spoke fluent English, but the nurses only spoke a bit of English. However, they were very nice and helpful; they even helped me with my Turkish! As a language enthusiast, I tried brushing up my Turkish with them and I have successfully picked up few conversational phrases which were useful during my exchange program. Google Translate was my savior during my first few weeks in Sivas but later on I had successfully picked up some useful phrases in Turkish. In addition, I also had the opportunity to present about Dermatology cases in Indonesia in front of the professors, nurses, and residents, therefore this exchange program was not merely about exchanging students, but also sharing knowledge and best practice from one country to another.
I was also fortunate enough to have a very nice supervisor and he invited me to have dinner with his family at his home. His family was very welcoming and they were keen on knowing more about Indonesia as they had never been to Indonesia nor heard much about Indonesia. We talked a lot about Indonesian cultures and tourism attractions and vice versa. It was the first time that he had an exchange student and up until now, I am still in touch with his family and send birthday and Eid greetings every year.
The Cultural Experience
After our work in hospital ended, I usually went out with my fellow exchange students and other local students to the city. We tried local foods and went to the landmark of the city. I spent every weekend outside Sivas to attend the national tour organized by the national chapter of TurkMSIC. The national tour was available every weekend and during this tour, all exchange students from Turkey gathered together. The exchange fee did not cover the national tour, but the fee was affordable and they tried their best to make sure that the exchange students had the best experience during the tour. I spent my first weekend in Izmir, the third largest city in Turkey after Istanbul and Ankara, which is also known for their heritage sites such as Ephesus and Pammukale. I met other exchange students from different parts of the world such as Canada, Germany, Slovakia, Brazil, Spain, Finland, and others. During the first national tour, I was the only one from Indonesia and the only one from Sivas who went there, so I quickly bonded with other exchange students from Istanbul and other regions. We really had fun in Izmir and decided to meet again the following weekend during the national tour to Cappadocia. This time all exchange students in Sivas went to Cappadocia and I also met other exchange students from Indonesia who were placed in Ankara.
Since I celebrated Eid and the majority of Turkish are Muslims, we had extra day offs for Eid holiday. I went to Ankara, the capital city of Turkey and celebrated Eid in the Indonesian embassy (Wisma Indonesia KBRI Ankara) along with the Ambassador, Madame Ambassador, diplomats, exchange students from Indonesia, which also included AIESEC exchange students and fellow Indonesian students in Turkey. I went there from Sivas with my fellow exchange student from Indonesia and Brazil, who wanted to go to Ankara and see how people celebrated Eid. I also met an exchange student from Malta who also celebrated Eid but did not know where to celebrate so he went to the Indonesian embassy instead with my friend from Indonesia. The Ambassador and Madame Ambassador were very generous and let us stay in Wisma Indonesia during the last day of Ramadhan and enjoyed Indonesian food feast, therefore making Eid celebration away from home and family felt bearable. After that, we spent our Eid holiday traveling around Ankara. My last weekend in Turkey was spent in Istanbul, the most populous city in Turkey and the country’s economic, cultural, and historic center. I went there with my brother who came from Indonesia to spend his summer holiday, but I also met other exchange students that I had acquainted before during the national trip.
Overall I really had a great time during my one-month exchange in Turkey. I made friends with people from different parts of the world, learned about other cultures and new languages, traveled to new places, had lots of fun, expanded my network with fellow future doctors and doctors, and gained new knowledge in the field of Dermatology. Turkey is such a beautiful country with rich culture and history and the people were also very warm and welcoming. The Indonesian Embassy and Indonesian community in Ankara were also very nice and helpful. I highly suggest medical students to undergo this exchange program to take a break from grueling workloads in medical school, expand your networking with other medical students and doctors from a different country, and gain new perspective and knowledge in your desired field of medicine, and have the adventure of a lifetime!