International Elective: Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, UK

Bristol, UK, paediatric emergency,  Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, international elective, clinical placement, Pabasara Hettiarachchi

By Pabasara Hettiarachchi

I completed my medical elective in the Paediatric Emergency Department of the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children in January of 2023. I, along with four other elective students from Australia, Scotland and Brazil, spent four weeks surrounded by sick children and their worried parents in the middle of the chilly and wet UK winter.

Armed with my waterproof puffer jacket, umbrella, and a can-do attitude, I embarked on this journey, hoping to come away with lots of extra knowledge, skills, friends, and unforgettable experiences. I was not disappointed!

The Bristol Royal Hospital for Children is a public children’s hospital and major trauma centre in the South-West of England.

My role was to take histories and do physical examinations on patients who had been triaged, followed by preparing management plans which I would present to one of the doctors working in the department. This level of autonomy was new to me, and I enjoyed it immensely. It allowed me to develop my problem-solving skills, whilst also teaching me how to communicate with paediatric patients of various ages. I learned the tips and tricks of performing physical exams on children; my most valued new skill is the ability to visualise the swollen tonsils of toddlers who grit their teeth when you attempt to pry their mouths open with a tongue depressor!

I also spent two days in the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). I found PICU to be quite confronting at first, as we walked from child to child, most of whom were intubated, some of whom were terminally ill, and others who were severely disabled. Cases that stuck with me include a previously healthy little boy who had developed acute disseminated encephalomyelitis after an infection, and a little girl with Kenny-Caffey syndrome, an extremely rare condition characterised by dwarfism, hypermetropia, microphthalmia and skeletal abnormalities.

Weekly teaching was also provided to us, in various paediatric topics.

Being able to undertake my elective with fellow international elective students served to enhance the experience. As we had travelled from various places to the UK with few to no contacts in Bristol, we found that we went from being complete strangers to bosom buddies within the first few days of the elective. Three of us lived in the same house in Bristol for the duration of the elective, which added to the fun. Whenever we had breaks in our placement schedules, we would go sightseeing together, including to Stonehenge and Bath, and to smaller destinations like the Bristol Old Vic, the various Banksy pieces scattered around the city, and the surprising number of 300-700-year-old English pubs in Bristol and the surrounding areas.

On my own, I made day and weekend trips to London, Wales, France and Scotland. Looking back, I find it hard to believe that I walked the streets of Paris all by myself, enjoying the sights and creating as many memories as I could before leaving Europe.

I am immensely thankful to the staff in the Paediatric Emergency Department and PICU for welcoming me, teaching me, and allowing me to immerse myself in the medicine of paediatrics. My elective experience taught me a lot, and I hope to carry my newfound knowledge and skills with me well into the future!