My RM experience has come full circle

My RM experience has come full circle

The end of any event always fills me up with a bag of mixed emotions; the RM 2016 in Uruguay was not any different.  This time, I felt euphoric, hopeful, proud, inspired, happy, lighthearted, slightly heavyhearted, relieved, content, fulfilled, amazed, pensive, and nostalgic – all at the same time.  All that I had anticipated from the moment that I was offered the opportunity, I had lived through it; all that I had prepared for the RM and the workshop, I had delivered it; all that I had desired to see, I had seen with my two eyes and even heard with my two ears; all that I had feared for, I had confronted (and for the most part, they just never happened); all that I had hoped for, I had received, and more.  The RM went beyond my expectations.  Now, I was ready to return to my life in Montreal to continue with my medical studies.  Yet, I wondered how I could be more involved with IFMSA in the future.  I thought of all the relationships that I created, what will become of them?  What will be the fruits of this encounter?  I wished I could relive through this experience all over again.  To be realistic, this would be impossible.  Yet, in theory, this is still partially possible.  I will attempt to do it by going over my initial goals which I had set in my first blog.  Indeed, this exercise would be more meaningful to me than to you, the reader, since I would have to look back and reflect on all the highlights.  At any rate, you will still get a sense of it as I recount my experience in relation to my goals.

Bear with me, this last entry will be slightly long, but it does summarize a journey from the beginning to the end.

Now, let’s go over the list of goals that I created prior to my departure.  Let’s see how they got fulfilled, or not.

(1) Clearly present the basic concepts of Universal Health Coverage, according to the resolution of PAHO, to the participants in one of the SCOPH workshops, while stimulating vibrant discussions.

Check.  Mission accomplished.  I did not only give a workshop, but two to two different groups.  I also sat through a panel at the end of the conference to summarize the outcomes of the workshops.  I hope most people benefitted from it, even though the material was introductory.  From my end, I admit that I am happy with how everything worked out, even surprised, as I did not expect to feel rewarded.  For the first time, I understood the gratifying feeling of teaching.  What was rewarding was to see how the participants were so engaged in the discussion, sharing the struggles, frustrations and pride of their health care system, and then desiring to further read on the subject after the RM.  It was touching to know that one participant downloaded the PAHO strategic resolution for Universal Health to read it on the plane ride, and that another emailed me questions on relevant themes post RM.  The interest that I had sown on the participants had taken roots on its own.  I hope it bears much fruition in all parts of the America.

(2) Exchange personal, academic and professional experiences in the Canadian medical system

Check.  I got to share them, especially in my workshops and poster fair.  Because of time constraints, I did not provide much detail.  It was really a scratch on the surface.  Yet it was sufficient to highlight the positive aspects of the Québec health system and to bring out the common struggles that Québec and the Americas share: long waiting times in the ER, long referral time in the public system and a lack of access to quality health services in rural areas and in indigenous communities.  I hope to have unified the participants through this.

(3) Give and receive information regarding health challenges at home and abroad

Check.  As I was part of SCORA, every morning I had sessions and discussions on topics related to sex/sexuality education, maternal health and access to safe abortion, sexuality and gender identity, gender based violence, or  HIV and other STIs.  My group had delegates from over 10 different countries, so we had many occasions to exchange experiences.  What Québec faces is different from what many Latin countries experience, for many reasons, culture being a significant one.  In spite of the differences, we all acknowledged that we need to work towards a common goal, that of ensuring that everyone obtains optimal and equitable health services, especially the marginalized groups.

(4) Inspire and be inspired to take initiatives to improve the health of our respective community upon our return home

Half check.  While I was in awe by many initiatives encountered in numerous conversations, poster fair and activity fairs, I have yet to have a particular initiative in mind that I could introduce to Montreal and McGill.  I am without a doubt inspired to be more involved in SCORA.  Perhaps I just need time to find that niche.

(5) Build friendships to support each other in our future initiatives and projects

Check.  Throughout the week, I met dedicated and enthusiastic medical students who want to improve the health of their community.  In our workshops, during meal times and social events, we bonded.  We know that we share one passion in common.  We know what keeps us going in our demanding education.  We know we are young and that our path will cross again in the future as we strive to pursue our projects and calling in the health sector.  As the week went on and as I returned to Montreal, I exchanged coordinates with many and without a doubt, became facebook friends with them.  This is the beginning of how we will be remain connected.

(6) Meet at least one delegate from each representing country and learn one new fact about each country

Half-check.  In the midst of a crowd of 160 people and a daily compact schedule that began at 8h30 until past 21h00, it was a challenge to keep track of who came from which country and to learn one distinct characteristic from each country.  I certainly met at least one delegate from each of the 20 representing countries.  From them, I attempted to learn something new, but it would be hard to list them all here.  I will however briefly mention a few that I found fascinating:  Did you know that Peru has beaches with red sands?  Did you know that Mexicans eat so much chillies that they even have chilly spread for toasts and chillies in their candies?  That Costa Rica has only one public medical school and the rest is private?  That nurses in Jamaica have to provide their own blood pressure cuffs when they go to work?  That Brazil has the largest Japanese population outside Japan?  That Cuban doctors are highly solicited in Bolivia and Ecuador?

(7) Take you with me to this RM through my updates on this blog

Check.  I hope I was able to make you feel part of the Regional Meeting.  I hope you enjoyed my blog.  It was my first ever.

(8) Give you a glimpse of Uruguay, as I explore the streets during my free/social time

I mentioned that I would take you through the streets of Montevideo, Uruguay.  My previous blogs did not focus on that, as we had little time to explore the city.  However, here, I will briefly summarize what Uruguay had imprinted into my memory drive.

**Happy Cows.  I have a friend whose parents used to own cows in their farm.  They would raise them and later kill them for consumption.  My friend grew up noticing that the meat from her cows were tastier than others.  Perhaps it was due to the way the cows were killed, as stress hormones can impact the meat quality.  To differentiate them, she would call them “happy cows” and the other ones “sad cows”.  If I can use this terminology to describe my culinary experiences with meat in Uruguay, I will use it for all the meat that I had consumed.  The meat was very juicy, sweet and tasty.  I used to be vegetarian for two years.  After this trip to Uruguay, I can easily go back to being vegetarian when I return to Montreal as I will no longer have access to Uruguayan meat.

**The Beach.  Half into the week, I discovered that the beach was three blocks from the hotel.  I took the chance to run along the beach in the morning to refresh my mind.  I knew I was fortunate as back home in Montreal, the runners were faced with snow and cold air.  Yet I was in Montevideo running with my shorts and t-shirt, next to the Pocito beach filled with palm trees along its edge, not to mention having the sun rays shine the side walk as I ran.  Those were also moments that I cherished, the quiet mornings before a full day of workshops and sessions.  In Montevideo, everyone had access to the beach.

**Friendly Uruguayans.  Uruguayans are friendly.  Since I decided to travel like a local, I took the local bus instead of a taxi to get from the airport to my hotel.  Certainly, the bus did not drop me off in front of the hotel.  I had to travel a few blocks.  So with my suitcases on the street in search for my hotel, three Uruguayans stopped to assist me at different point of my short journey.  They even switched to French when they found out that I came from Québec.  I was touched by them and will forever remember them.

(9) Last but not least, get my feet onto the dance floor to the beat of some salsa and bachata

Half check.  I was on the dance floor, without a doubt.  You can ask the other delegates.  But I did not dance salsa nor bachata.  The crowd and DJ preferred reggaeton, modern pop and some Merengue.  That is what I danced to, and I had a blast!

So, I just went through a whirlwind of what I had hoped to accomplish and what actually happened in the RM.  Overall, I am so happy and satisfied with the entire experience.  I had impatiently anticipated for the week-long RM.  Now that it had come and gone, I am realizing that the RM was critical in shaping my present and most likely my future.  So much happened and there is still so much to reflect on.  For now, one thing is certain – I am actively looking for ways to be more involved with IFMSA because I have been filled with its spirit.