A Month in Sri Lanka – My Amazing Elective Experience!

A Month in Sri Lanka:

My Amazing Elective Experience!

A guest post by Jazmin Hawes (@jaz_medicine)


My elective in Sri Lanka was unquestionably amazing. I absolutely loved it! I was placed at Colombo South Teaching Hospital, a hospital about 15 minutes south of Colombo city.  There were the most amazing registrars and interns looking after me on the wards, and some very kind and knowledgeable consultants. On most the weekends, I was able to travel around the amazingly diverse country that is Sri Lanka. Please find my photos and their captions to see the sights and beauty. It was an experience I would never forget!


Unawatuna beach
Sunset over Unawatuna Beach


For the first week I was the only student on the ward, and the interns and registrars spoiled me with attention. They showed me the open ward, with 40 beds and 140 male patients. They showed me how to check haematocrit using a finger prick, clay, a centrifuge, and a slide-rule. I was able to find patients that spoke English so that I could take histories and was taught about pathology and management in Sri Lanka. The registers even advised me to go to a certain book store to purchase text books, because they are very CHEAP in Sri Lanka! The junior registrar on the ward would even give me exam tips, although I think Sri Lankan exams are a lot more in-depth and harder than my exams (but American exams also seem scary to me, so maybe they are on par).


The Registrars, House Officers, and elective students on the medical ward at Colombo South Teaching Hospital – known as Kalubowila.


In my second week the local medical students were back after their exams, as well as 3 new elective students. With more students around , we tried even more local cuisine, and I was always immediately offered water when they saw my face (pro tip: it’s really spicy; avoid adding chilli to begin with!!).

Myself and the elective students were invited to the tutorials for the local students, and we were very impressed. The senior registrar gave the most amazing tutorial: he asked the students what topics they wanted him to go over for their study and then he went through causes, symptoms, investigations and treatment for many different conditions –  just off the top of his head. I aspire to be that knowledgeable one day!  I learnt a lot about dengue, neurology, diabetes, liver disease, and the Sri Lankan health care system, culture and history! 


Sri Prada Peak!
The peak of Sri Prada – important to many different religions. It is known as the “sacred footprint,” left by Buddah as he headed toward paradise. For Christians, Jews, and Muslims – it is here Adam and Eve set foot after being kicked out the Garden of Eden. Hindus believe the footprint crowning the peak is Lord Shiva’s from when he danced the world into existence.


During my third week I was able to do more exploring around Colombo after my time in the hospital. I got to visit the Pettah markets, the Presidential house, the Old Dutch Hospital, and we went to the Mount Lavinia Hotel where there was a private beach to explore. I also went solo once into Colombo to visit the National Museum. The museum is a great place to learn about Sri Lanka’s history, and I really recommend having a look around there!


Hindu Temple
The highlight of my Jaffna experience – the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil – the main Hindu temple of Jaffna.


My final week was wonderful – filled with shopping and buying last-minute souvenirs (I now have a stunning sari courtesy of one of the other student’s mums). I also found a few really nice clutches and some new heels, and a beautiful Ceylon sapphire ring! The night before I flew out I went to ‘Dutch’, what the locals call the bar at the Old Dutch Hospital. Here they had an amazing live band that does incredible covers. I highly recommend anyone going to Dutch for a fun Friday night.


Lion Rock
The beautiful ‘Sigiriya’ – or “Lion Rock” – an ancient rock fortress built by King Kasyapa (477-495 CE) for the new capital. The palace set on top of a 200m rock. I spent a very hot and sweaty afternoon climbing it, but it was amazing!



A little about Sir Lanka Health Care:

Sri Lanka has a fantastic health system, considering it is still classified as a 3rd world country. They have completely free hospital care for any and all Sri Lankans. And while they don’t have a lot of GPs, the hospital specialists offer free clinics twice a week. Free medications are available through the government-funded hospitals, but not all “gold standard” medications are always available on the public system. If the patient can afford it, these could be purchased through the private system. Although most commonly used medications were available for free, only one type from each medication class was available, so it was quite easy to start recognising medications on a patient’s chart.

I have promised myself that I will not complain about the hours that I will be forced to work during internship, after I have seen the junior Sri Lankan doctors in action! The House Officers, or interns, work the wards 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, for the 365 days of their internship year, without holidays or sick leave! It only gets slightly better as a registrar, at least from what I could gather.

To get into medical school, you compete against the people in your state, and are then allocated a medical school. Your marks in the medical school exams determine your rank, which is the order in which students choose the hospital to intern at. You then sit for another exam and are ranked again for the hospital of choice for residency. Then  more exams and more ranking so to choose specialty training. It’s such an academically driven system, but the doctors can recite amazing details (like recalling transporters in the kidney) off the top of their heads!


Whoever said ‘don’t go chasing waterfalls?’ – I wouldn’t have met this cheeky monkey at the Ravana Falls, otherwise!


So, all in all, an incredible elective with amazing doctors and beautiful places to visit. I was able to experience the Sri Lankan health care system, as well as their culture and history. I highly recommend Sri Lanka as a holiday destination, as well as a great place to learn medicine and see a different health system.



Jazmin Hawes is an australian medical student and future geriatrician. She can be reached via her twitter handle “Bubbly Med Student.” 


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  1. I am extremely happy to read your account about my own country and more specifically about colombo south teaching hospital. It was my teaching hospital and privileged to meet students from UK and Australia during my professorial appointments. Now I am a pre intern doctor.
    We warmly welcome you all to come and experience medicine and culture in my country. Meeting you all and exchanging experiences are pretty interesting. Come again and visit my country in future as well.

  2. Dear Jazmin,
    First of all, as the coordinator of the elective programme, I am glad that you have had a very pleasant stay in Sri Lanka and an academically fruitful period at our teaching hospital.
    On behalf of the faculty of medical sciences, University of Sri Jayawardenepura, I would like to thank you not only for writing an excellent review but also taking some time off to share your experience to help other medical students with your independent review about our programme (http://medical.sjp.ac.lk/index.php/electives-entrance) and country.
    Take care,
    Hasini Banneheke
    Elective Coordinator-FMS, USJP, Sri Lanka

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