After dedicating the last few semesters to laboratory research, the summertime finally gave me the freedom to pursue other opportunities. Several months earlier I had begun to contact a number of medical doctors in Zenica, my native city in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I spent my childhood. There were no formal internships. No guidelines. No expectations. It was a long shot, but I was determined not to miss a chance to not only gain valuable clinical experience, but invaluable cultural experience as well. So I took a leap of faith and contacted dozens of physicians. Out of these, only a handful responded. One in particular seemed to be more interested than the rest — a neuropsychiatrist named Dr. Tomic.
I began my internship at the hospital where Dr. Tomic worked. Located in rural Nova Bila, Bosnia and Herzegovina, it serviced much of the underprivileged community surrounding the metropolitan city of Zenica. My mentor and the staff there wasted no time putting me to work. Though at first I merely would observe various techniques performed by the nursing staff, eventually I moved on to doing them myself once they felt I was ready. Phlebotomies, dispensing pills, performing ECGs, and a variety of other clinical practices are but a few of the things I was allowed to do, yet it doesn’t begin to cover it all.
The day would usually begin by shadowing my mentor while he did rounds at the neuropsychiatry floor which contained roughly twenty beds and mainly housed stroke victims. During this time, he would take a minute to explain the patient’s situation and the necessary course of action. Though I didn’t have the expertise, he would still take the time to go over CT scans, MRIs, x-rays, and any other documents, if only to help me understand how to read them properly. Following rounds, when it wasn’t too busy, I would join him in the emergency room where he attended patients with an assortment of ailments. In other words, it was never dull and there was always something new to learn. Since Dr. Tomic also had administrative duties to attend to, the rest of my time was spent with the nursing staff and the patients in neuropsychiatry. As time passed, I got to know other doctors and surgeons who also offered me the opportunity to observe and assist on their floors when my time wasn’t occupied by Dr. Tomic.
Though the hospital took up a good forty hours a week, I never missed the chance to take in the sites and culture as much as possible. Zenica is truly a harmonious compilation of both nature and modern industrialization. As you can probably tell by the pictures, though highly metropolitan, it teems with exuberant shrubbery and mountains anywhere you look. During my stay there, I took a couple of trips down to the Adriatic Sea with family and friends. Believe me when I say that the pictures I took don’t do it justice.
When my little adventure had finally ended, I returned to the U.S. and the life I have come to consider as normal. I won’t lie and claim that I experienced a radical change, gaining a whole new perspective. Instead, I was able to see the difference between our cultures, the way we approach healthcare, and our priorities. While neither side can claim to have a perfect viewpoint, being able to see both and striving for a balance between the two will surely make me a better person and hopefully, in the future, a better doctor. What would be my advice to others? Don’t confine yourself. Dare to allow yourself the experience, no matter how far away, how little cultural knowledge you have, or even because the experience you want doesn’t exist and you have to create it yourself.