Rebecca Bromell – Medical elective blog
By Rebecca Bromell | 12 February 2020
A couple of weeks ago I completed my two-week placement in Rarotonga, where I spent one week on O & G, and one week on Paediatrics. I'm now halfway through my elective and I can't believe how fast it's going by!
I've spent most of the past two weeks since then taking a mid-elective holiday in the US – as my elective is in the fourth quarter, I had the option of starting my elective early during our scheduled break and giving myself time off now instead.
Regardless, here's a bit about my time in Rarotonga.
Rarotonga, being the largest and most populous island of the Cook Islands, with a population of about eleven thousand, was a little bit of a shock coming from Aitutaki. It felt a lot busier – though that's still pretty quiet by New Zealand standards – with a lot more traffic on the roads and more people.
This also came with the plus side of more options for eating and shopping, something a bit lacking in Aitutaki.
One thing I was surprised by though were the dogs – while Aitutaki has chickens and cats everywhere, Rarotonga also has village dogs. They're largely very friendly and fine around people, but sometimes run out onto the road chasing each other right in front of you! They certainly add an extra factor to be aware of when travelling around.
I stayed at Rarotonga Backpackers during my stay, which was an easy 10-minute scooter drive from the hospital. One of the benefits about staying at a backpackers is the great opportunity to meet a range of people from all around the world, including other medical students!
As Rarotonga Hospital is larger than Aitutaki, it can host more students from different countries as well – when I was there, there were also two German students and a UK student on placement as well.
Rarotonga Hospital is relatively similar to smaller ones in New Zealand, with different departments, a range of lab services, theatre, ED, and outpatients. Compared to Aitutaki it felt rather modern and better resourced. It's also uphill as it is a little bit inland and travellers often comment that it has a pretty great view if you have to go there!
Both teams I worked with were very friendly and welcoming, and made sure to get students involved fully in care. While there were very few inpatients both weeks – almost all my patients were either mothers having just given birth, or their babies – there were daily outpatient clinics where I got a lot of practical experience.
On O & G I did a lot of pregnant belly examinations and doppler ultrasounds, as well as attending births. On Paediatrics I often examined and took histories from the kids, and on ward rounds I did newborn baby checks. Some of the antenatal screening in the Cook Islands is different from back in New Zealand, which meant at least once the baby check revealed something unexpected.
This was an interesting learning point as it got me thinking about resources available for children with genetic conditions and disabilities, and was a good topic of discussion with student teachers I also met at the backpackers.
While I was certainly kept busy and engaged while at the hospital, the staff also actively encouraged leaving at lunchtime to better be able to explore the island. This was welcomed too, as Rarotonga has a lot to offer!
As well as beaches as lovely as as those on Aitutaki, there were two markets – the Muri night market and the Punanga Nui Saturday market in Avarua which has both great food and plenty of stalls for buying souvenirs.
There are also great snorkelling spots and water activities with great whale watching spots, such as Tuoro (Black Rock – the Cape Reinga of Rarotonga).
I was lucky enough that some of my family were able to visit me during my second week in Rarotonga. The trainee intern year at medical school is a busy one, and it can be hard to find time to travel home if you live further afield. This is especially true for Otago where you start back quickly after fifth year! For those who don't get to see family over Christmas, your elective can provide a chance to catch-up with them somewhere exciting instead.
During this week, my dad and I took an afternoon to do the cross-island walk with the detour to Te Rua Manga (the Needle), an impressive outcropping of bare rock and one of the highest points on the island.
The trail is very much like one you might see in the North Island of New Zealand, and you certainly make good height quickly as you scramble up banks of tree roots! The view from the top is definitely worth it.
Towards the end of the walk you come to Papua/Wigmore's Waterfall, which after rain on the weekend boasted an impressive plunge pool with the perfect temperature for swimming. I was too busy jumping in to take photos myself!
It really helped reading past elective reports before going to Rarotonga, and I also got a lot of great information from the Health Sciences Pacific office in Otago regarding accommodation references and other advice.
Travel was made much easier by knowing about things such as sim cards and scooter licences in advance (much easier to get on Aitutaki than Rarotonga) and the University certainly helped a lot with that.
Again, the extra financial assistance from MAS was certainly helpful in allowing me to travel to such incredible locations and giving me the chance to see my family in somewhere as beautiful as Rarotonga! I'd also like to extend a personal thank you to Angie, MAS' student adviser, who gave me great personal advice about her own visits to the Cook Islands!
My next stop for my elective is Boston, after these two weeks of holiday. I spent most of them in New York city, so I look forward to letting you know how it went!
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