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Rhian Allen
Cebu Doctors' University Hospital, Cebu City, Philippines

Clinical interest: General surgery

The Planning

Choosing the location was the first step. The next step was to decide where to focus our hospital search within the Philippines, with particular care to stay in safe zones away from areas of terrorist activity as well as searching for hospitals offering the specialties we wanted to work in – these being surgery, O&G and emergency medicine. Our original search for hospitals was done on a sunny afternoon in Swansea at a local restaurant. The idea was to enjoy the entire elective process, including the monotonous planning phase. With regards to flights, we visited the local STA store armed with our passports. The staff were knowledgeable and they had booked the appropriate flights on the dates we requested within a few days. We opted to book flexi-flights because we were yet to receive exam results and this would allow us to alter the dates of our flights if necessary.

The hospital did not provide accommodation but they do recommend places to stay. We found ours on AirBnB and met some wonderful locals this way. It gets hot and humid from very early, around 9am, so air-conditioning was essential and a swimming pool close by was also very welcome. There were plenty of apartments to choose from just a 15-minute walk from the hospital and close to a supermarket, shops and places to eat. There are a many fast food options for very reasonable prices, around £2-3 for a meal. It is safest not to venture out alone after dark, and to get a taxi if need be. The hospital is in a safe location but it is always best to act wisely and not be careless with our safety. Many of the hotels, apartments, supermarkets and stores have their own security guards checking bags as you enter. This makes the area feel a lot safer but it is still advisable not to venture out alone at night or to make a display of money/valuable items.

What I Wanted to Get out of Elective

I wanted to work in a developing country, other than one in Africa where I have visited previously. My aim was to experience surgery in the setting of a teaching hospital to experience the kind of teaching the medical students there receive.

The Elective

During my Surgical elective I joined the team on the daily 6:30 am ward round before joining the Interns for their teaching sessions where cases were presented and relevant anatomy, physiology, presentations and management plans were considered. Any interesting or unusual aspects were also discussed. Following teaching we would head to theatre to scrub-in and assist in our allocated procedures – mine were ENT or cardiac operations. I was fortunate enough to assist in a variety of operations within different specialties including removal of the thyroid gland, neck dissections, lymph node excisions, hernia repairs, laparoscopic surgery, breast surgery as well as CABGs and valve replacements. The most rewarding aspect of my time spent at the hospital was the time spent in theatre, feeling so welcome and part of the team. They would make sure I knew where I was going and what was happening, especially if the patients did not speak English.

The Philippines is a fairly up-and-coming destination for travellers from all over the world so I knew there would be plenty of things to see and do outside of placement. The staff and students at the hospital were very friendly and enthusiastic about sharing the country’s heritage and the best tourist attractions with us, most of whom had visited them previously and were able to give advice with regards to travel, accommodation and cost.

The Philippines is made up of 7107 islands and we spent most of our free time exploring as many as we could, from the lush green mountainous island of Bohol with its chocolate hills and tarsier conservation to the sandy beaches of Boracay. Nothing can prepare you for the natural beauty that this country has to offer and the countless photo opportunities it affords. Not to forget the hustle and bustle of the busy cities of Manila and Cebu with the traffic congestion, pollution and vendors selling street food. When in the Philippines there are a few experiences that have to be tried, for example the popular mode of public transport known locally as the Jeepney. Famous for crowded seating and their loud tacky decorations, and an ever-present figure of Philippine culture.


A personal highlight was swimming with whale sharks in Oslob. Despite the 6-hour drive and a 5am wake-up call to join the fishermen on their boats it was worth it for this once in a lifetime experience. Nothing can prepare you for their size and grace as they swim peacefully alongside you, mouths open and enjoying their breakfast. Other highlights include swimming alongside sea turtles off Turtle Island, searching for starfish on Starfish Island and sailing through the numerous blue lagoons that truly take your breath away.

I hope that my elective report will encourage you to undertake an elective in the Philippines and that you have an equally memorable and fulfilling experience as we did. The friends I made and memories we shared will be cherished always.

Rhian Allen

To see an unedited version of Rhian's report, please contact info@electives.net.
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