Alastair Hughes


“For two weeks of my elective during the summer of 2014, I had the privilege of joining Dr Sheen and his wife, Suzy, on a voluntary medical mission to Viti Levu, to help pave the way for the redevelopment of the Vatukarasa Health Centre.

As a Medical Student from the United Kingdom, I had not previously visited Fiji. On reaching Viti Levu, it surpassed even my wildest expectations. Nothing short of a raw, tropical paradise, the extraordinary combination of sunshine, endless vistas and the warmest of people make it one of those places you wish never to leave.

Before leaving Australia, there was a lot of preparation required and I was given the task of compiling the equipment and medication we needed for a successful trip. This was a more daunting task than I had anticipated and the scale of the kit was remarkable, making for some challenging last minute packing!

Once in Fiji, Dr Sheen’s schedule was expectedly jam-packed, with the time incredibly well organized to ensure maximum impact. Time was split between outpatient clinics at Sigatoka Hospital and a number of other locations including schools, resorts and villages.

Each morning saw an early start, with preparation for clinic the next day performed the night before. I certainly learned the importance of detail when our first expedition to Nasivikoso Village School, high in the mountains, saw me forget the otoscope tips. Not a good start and I learned fast about the importance of careful preparation.

Clinics often ran from early morning until late into the night, it was truly amazing how many people would turn up and queue for hours to receive free medical care. My role very much centered around helping triage patients, collecting basic medical information using a screening proforma we had designed prior to arrival. The opportunities for learning were abundant.

In total we saw nearly 200 patients in our field-clinics and many more though outpatients at Sigatoka hospital.

What struck me the most was the warmth and joy of people we had the privilege of meeting along the way. Many had ailments for which we could only do a little given the scarce resources but what really amazed me was the incredible gratitude people had for just being seen by a doctor.

Being a visiting medical student or doctor in Fiji is quite literally the experience of a lifetime and I would certainly recommend it to anyone with a nose for adventure.

Alastair Hughes
July 2014