Mongolia 2018 Reflection: You Live And You Learn (Joanna Christodoulides)

When I joined the mission, I really didn’t know what to expect as someone with no medical background and had doubts as to what exactly I would be doing on a (supposedly) primarily surgical mission or even whether I would be of any use. All I knew was as my dad, a general surgeon, was volunteering to go on the mission to Mongolia and wanted me to go with him, this would probably be a once in a lifetime opportunity for an eye-opening experience to a country to which I was probably unlikely to ever go to again or choose to go to myself.

When starting the mission, I wasn’t so much nervous for the mission itself, or apprehensive about the conditions in which we would be living in for two weeks – living on a train with cold showers every day turned out to be quite an adventure – but as to how I would get on and fit in with the rest of the group, who all mostly seemed to have, as you would expect on a mission like this, some connection with medicine, whether they were pre-med, medical students, surgical residents, anesthesiologists, or surgeons. However, I was surprised yet relieved to learn that a few of them, like me had no connection to medicine, and simply wanted to come on this mission to be a part of this experience and help out where they could.

During the mission, I learned a lot about the Mongolian health system and the main health problems they faced, many due to their almost purely meat-based diet. As we were being hosted by the UB Railway Company, the majority of the patients we screened were railway workers, and therefore came in with complaints of back pain or knee pain, due to their heavy labor jobs. After two weeks of observing all these screenings, I gained a huge appreciation for Western medicine, realizing how much we tend to take it for granted, as some of these symptoms may come across as basic or self-explanatory when one has the option to google how to help them. Furthermore, I really enjoyed seeing the cooperation between the local doctors and all the members of the Mission to Heal team, as I thought it was amazing to see people from different backgrounds coming to together with a common goal of helping others, and felt it was refreshing to see each person learning from other people’s own experiences and knowledge.

As someone who is initially very shy when meeting new people, especially in big groups, I was very nervous when Doctor G asked me to do my first tutorial, especially as I felt it would not be very beneficial as I did not have much medical knowledge and felt everyone I was presenting to would know more on my topic than me. However, reflecting back on it, I realized none of those worries really mattered, as the tutorials were beneficial to different people in different ways. For me, it was helpful to learn the basics about a topic which in hindsight I realized everyone should be aware of – mine was ‘Safe Motherhood’ – and become aware of all the complications that could arise if there is not proper healthcare involved. It was then interesting to hear the doctors with medical experience on this topic provide further in-depth knowledge about it or brush up on aspects which they had not touched upon in a long time.

Overall, this mission has been an eye-opening and rewarding experience for me. I have learned a lot about a different culture and met and worked with an amazing group of people. The mission has inspired me to see new perspectives and not to have too many pre-judgments when going into something you don’t know much about, and to have an open mind, regardless of all the challenges you may face – which we seemed to have a few of on the mission. I feel personally, I have become more confident in presenting to a group of people and voicing my opinion. I found Doctor G’s extensive knowledge about everything and anything extremely inspiring and would happily become involved in another mission in the future.