Reflecting On My Volunteering Experience

Sally Connelly; new graduate volunteer

When I initially applied to be considered to join World Medicine on their 2019 trip, I had not yet graduated, nor ever been to India, so both of these possibilities seemed somewhat abstract and very far off events! By the time I set off for Gujurat, I had been in my own practice for just 6 months and was treating an average of 10-15 patients each week, sometimes less, sometimes more.

World medicine occupied two wards within Jayambe Hospital in Chaparda, creating a men’s clinic and a women’s clinic. I was working within the women’s clinic. On my first day, as I turned the corner towards our allocated wards, I was greeted with a long queue of patients who were waiting for treatment with us. Some had been sleeping on the cold floor all night in order to be seen. Many had traveled from far off villages, setting off from home in the early hours.

I was eased in gently to the work and only expected to start treating when I felt ready, but I was really keen to get started and on my first day I treated 11 patients. There was a real sense of being new again, and I was taken back to my first day in student clinic when I suddenly felt like everything I ever thought I knew had abandoned me. Like a rabbit in the headlights, I felt as though I knew nothing.  But, and this is one of the many valuable lessons I learned during my time in Chaparda, I did! The knowledge was there, I just had to trust myself and dive in.

I kept my treatment plans simple and treated what I saw, I wasn’t too adventurous with my point choices to begin with.  With the help of the incredible translators I was able to establish their primary concern and take it from there. The primary issues people sought help for were very often musculoskeletal and each patient was asked to commit to at least 3 sessions.

By the end of the first week I was giving around 25 treatments a day, and had built a rapport with the returning patients. As a new practitioner it was really exciting and rewarding to see the improvements and changes in returning patients, and to witness how transformative intensive treatment can be. Many of the locals who sought treatment earned their livelihoods through physically demanding work, so enabling them to continue this with less pain and hindrance was a privilege. The days were long and tiring, but always ended with a delicious chai tea, incredible food and good humour.

My time volunteering with World Medicine so early on in my professional career has been an absolute gift. The intensity of work allowed me to cement my newly acquired abilities, to trust my instinct and to hone my diagnostic skills. I have made lifelong friends and mentors, whose depth of knowledge and experience has been shared with generosity and humility. I have seen first hand what an incredibly effective and adaptable form of medicine acupuncture can be, and have returned to my own practice with a renewed sense of confidence and purpose.