Stretch Reflection: Learning to Adapt + Embrace the Unexpected

July 3rd, 2017

I was so excited to begin my Stretch Experience that I purchased a plane ticket that landed me in China on May 1st, practically the very first day of my summer break, thinking that everything would work out. It didn’t go as planned. For a variety of reasons, my initial plan of acting as a Mandarin-English clinical translator kept getting delayed. Instead of waiting around for the opportunity to reach me, I decided to take the initiative and step into local hospitals, without a particular goal in mind, but simply go in and learn about how their systems work. I received a referral from one of my contacts (my initial Stretch Experience advisor) to shadow a physician in a Traditional Chinese Medicine hospital in Fujian, China (only a three-hour drive from where I was staying), and I went to check it out. Y’see, I consider myself an avid planner. I have a physical planner that I religiously use to document what I have to do, sometimes down to the specific hour. At the initial stages of my Stretch Experience, I was honestly faced with a ton of doubt about where I could go and what I could do. The first couple of weeks, in and of itself, already put me outside of my comfort zone.

The hospital I stayed at was understaffed, and the Department of Oncology even filled up the hallway with beds to place extra patient. There was never enough space. As a result, Physician and nurses are often physically and mentally drained by the end of the day. I also realized that doctors in China are often not treated with respect by the patients. It was frustrating for me to see certain patients treating nurses condescendingly, and unappreciative of others’ favours. Of course, this was not the case for all patients, but a couple of examples really stood out. I also didn’t feel particularly useful, (understandably, due to my lack of training), but it felt good to be a part of a motivated group of people, encountering new cases every day.

I realized that building a physician-led Rehabilitation Group could be a potential solution to save individual physicians follow-up time. I had volunteered at a similar Rehabilitation Group in the past, and I was familiar with the general structure and recruitment process. I brought up this idea to the physician I was shadowing, and she seemed to like the idea of having a centralized group. Upon further brainstorming, we realized that the support group could be a resource that not only allows patients to gain medical advice after chemo, but provide psychological support through sharing experiences and stories. I did a lot of research, and even reached out and received guidance from my volunteer supervisors back home. They provided me with many tips and materials with building a rehab group, and described some of the methods that worked for them (huge shout-out to you both!).

The first Rehab Group session I organized became a success! Most patients in the Department attended, along with many other excited physicians and other clinicians who was there to provide feedbacks and suggestions. We had a good mixture of formal information delivery, aimed to shatter medical myths prevalent in smaller towns, as well as non-formal mingling amongst patients. For those who find it difficult to attend the sessions in person, a social media group (on WeChat, the Chinese equivalence of Facebook) has been set up, where patients and physicians alike can contribute to their discussion online. It was especially heartwarming to see a patient, who typically kept to himself in his hospital bed, laugh and share hospital tips with another patient.

I will be here for one more month, and during this time, I hope to make this group a norm within the hospital, and hopefully follow a similar format on other Departments and local hospitals as well. I look forward to sharing the rest of my experience during my presentation at the end of August! Thank you for reading.


Crystal Liu

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