Articles and Case Studies

My Paediatric Elective in Northern Ireland

14 Aug 2018

northern ireland

Sasika Loysen from the UK describes her medical elective experience at the Ulster Hospital in Northern Ireland.
Photo: The Giant's Causeway, a unique rock formation, believed to be the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption

I spent four weeks this summer undertaking a paediatric elective in Northern Ireland at the Ulster Hospital. It is a major teaching hospital on the outskirts of Belfast, first founded in 1872, and currently undergoing a £340 million development. It offers all acute services needed by the local population, and sees 4,000 births a year.

Why I picked this elective

I picked paediatrics as I had little previous experience in this branch of medicine, and also don’t know any children or babies – I wanted to find out if I was any good with them!

I chose Northern Ireland because I had never been there before and have wanted to visit for years. I chose the Ulster Hospital specifically because friends were arranging to have their electives there.

What I learnt

I split most of my time between the paediatric ward and neonatal unit, and spent two days in obstetrics. I joined ward rounds, attended diabetes and allergy clinics, helped with ambulatory patients, assisted with baby checks and injections, and spoke to patients and their families.

During my first week, there was a spate of children being admitted for viral induced wheeze, a common infection amongst those under the age of three. I learnt how to manage these children and to reassure their parents. I helped out with weights and measurements of babies at a cow’s milk allergy clinic where I learnt about dietary changes that breastfeeding mothers need to make, and how it affects family life. I also spent one morning in Scrabo Children’s Centre (a cycle ride away from the Ulster, like all the other places I needed to go!) with a behavioural specialist running an ADHD clinic. It was great hearing from one mother how much better life was for her young son, now that he was on the correct treatment.

There was unfortunately little teaching, as it was summer and the local medical students were not on placement. But I still managed to have a session on the importance of play in childhood, as well as a seizure tutorial. I stayed in the hospital accommodation which was good, despite not having Wi-Fi access in bedrooms – which meant that I met various inspiring healthcare professionals in the kitchen when cooking! I ended up shadowing an obstetric registrar who was also staying in the accommodation, after showing an interest (and lack of knowledge) in his subject!

I spent one morning in an antenatal clinic seeing baby scans, and one day with the on-call registrar where I saw several vaginal and C-section deliveries – and even scrubbed in and assisted in one C-section, which was an amazing experience. There were some exceptionally interesting and rare cases I saw in the neonatal and paediatric wards, which I cannot share because of patient confidentiality! But amongst them, I saw how difficult and emotionally challenging paediatric medicine could be, how resilient the doctors were, and how thankful the families were. It struck me as a challenging speciality, but one that could be hugely rewarding.

A great team

The paediatric and obstetric team were all very friendly and helpful, constantly willing to teach and find out what I was unsure about, both nurses and doctors alike. They helped me feel like part of the team, rather than a visiting student. They suggested places to visit during my stay, sharing tales of medicine over the years during lunch. Lunchtime was always special because most members of the team managed to eat together, and I haven’t witnessed this in many other specialties or teams in medicine. It meant the team was stronger and more able to bounce ideas off each other if they were unsure about how to proceed with a difficult case.

Beautiful sightseeing

Northern Ireland is full of beautiful countryside, and one weekend was spent in Portrush and travelling along the north coast to Giant’s Causeway, seeing castles and stunning seascapes along the way. It rained the majority of the time I spent in Northern Ireland, but it didn’t matter because the beauty that surrounded me totally made up for it! I spent another weekend in Dublin, just another stunning bus ride away. Dublin is a hub of activity, packed full of amazing things to eat, see and do, during the day and throughout the night.

The people I met were incredibly friendly and I never felt unsafe during my travels. I learnt a lot about the history of the land including the conflict that still exists between different religions. I was surprised at how few supermarkets are open on a Sunday, and that public transport virtually ceases during bank holidays. But with everything so close together, taxis are easily available.

northern ireland

Photo: The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in County Antrim, Northern Ireland links the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede 

The Electives Network (TEN)

This article was provided by The Electives Network (TEN), an online resource providing all the assistance you need to plan your dream elective. TEN gives you personalised support and access to the latest information, interactive tools, case studies and much more. 

As a Member of MDA National, you have free access to TEN. So take advantage of this opportunity to make your elective a truly memorable experience!

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