Medical Student abroad in Tokyo

In January 2017 I shared my new years resolutions sharing that one of my goals this year is to attend a four weeks clinical clerkship (which is an internship for medical students) in Tokyo, Japan, applying for the Gastroenterology and Cardiovascular Medicine department.

I always wanted to go to Japan. Visiting this beautiful country with all of its facets, the huge contrast of tradition and modernity, the amazing food, beautiful nature and getting to know the culture has been on my bucket list for years. I was very interested in leaning about medical technics we don’t see very often in Europe, specially in Gastro and the relationship between doctors and patients as Japan is one of the countries were shame, keeping one’s countenance and respect is high on the agenda.

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In Medical School, there is a certain amount of practical internships we have to attend (it varies from school to school, in my Uni you have to intern for 12 weeks at least) in order to learn, having interactions with patients from a early stage at the course and practice our skills. They are a way to experience a little bit of our future life as a doctor, next to the very heavy book based course at Uni and for me a great way of demonstrating myself what I’ve already learned so far (as during the semester, I kind of loose this feeling).

I started my application in November 2016. I chose Tokyo, because I thought it is a exciting city to explore the contrasts of Japan and maybe the easiest for international students and after reading a few reviews only, I applied for the Juntendo University Hospital.

After a huge amount of paper work I had to send in, I got a very friendly and fast response of the International Office of the University and a few weeks later, I got an acceptance letter for my clinical clerkship, starting in July 2017. I was beyond excited and started organizing my trip. My brother gave me two Japanese language books which are great for studying basic Japanese; ordered a ton of traveling books, watched documentaries and a hell lot of youtube videos. It got me excited and motivated to do well during the semesters because there was something super great waiting for me during summer break.

On July the first I arrived in a very hot and very humid Tokyo, at around 10 pm in my little single room apartment which I rented on Airbnb, my little home for the next four weeks. I had the next day off for exploring the city before I had to start work the following day at the hospital, so I took advantage of that to the fullest. I had my first meal from one of the great convenient shops, plenty of green tea bottles from vending machines, visited Shinjuku and Shibuya, listened to the Cicadas while exploring little corners of the city and getting lost all the time (thank god for pocket wifi!).

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My first day at the Hospital started very, very well. In the morning, we had a meeting with all the new students to get to know each other and got a lot of informations about the University and the country in generell. 10 students from all over the world started the week with me and since there were new students arriving every Monday, there was no reason to worry about making friends, meeting up for lunch at the canteen, socializing and great adventures after work and during the weekend.

I started my work at the Cardiology Department and was welcomed by a lot of kind doctors including my supervisior. I got a pretty adaptable schedule where I was able to observe a lot of cardiological examinations and learn a lot about the diseases Japan is suffering from. We had a lot of conversations about the differences of health care systems, diseases, patient-doctor relationships, and the medical school education system and I felt that the doctors were genuinely interested in my culture and life back at home.

In the first week, we were allowed to attend the star festival called Tanabata were we wore some traditional Yukata clothing, attended a speech at Medicine and Dental Medicine University of Tokyo and went to a temple to make our wishes.

I had a lot of time to explore Tokyo after work and used every opportunity of it. The second half of my four week clinical clerkship was at the Gastroenterology Department. I was joined by two other students who were originally from Japan, but moved to Hungary to study Medicine. Although the department was super busy, a bit strict and not as personal as the Cardiology Department, I really enjoyed my time there as I observed some pretty interesting examinations and technics I hadn’t seen before. The four weeks flew by so incredible fast and I am grateful for every day.

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After the Internship, I decided to travel around Japan, visiting Nikko, Takayama, Kyoto, Nara and Hiroshima. The weekend after I finished my Clinical Clerkship, I hiked the highest mountain in Japan – Mount Fuji – during the night to watch the sunrise the next morning. It was one of the hardest things I did in my entire life but I am very proud that I did it and the sunrise was definitely worth it.

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After six weeks of me staying in Japan, I traveled back home to Hamburg. I was super sad to leave the friends I made in Tokyo as well as the country, but also very excited to see my family and friends back home after a long time (since I study in Vienna and don’t get to see them very often!).

I can’t wait for my next experience as a medical student abroad and will never forget my beautiful experience abroad in Japan!

7 Comments

  1. It looks and sounds like you had a lot of fun there. 🙂 I am also considering doing a medical clerkship in Asia (since that is my home continent), but I always thought it would a bit too strict. Your sharing of your experience though has convinced me otherwise, showing me that it can be a lot of fun despite the cultural differences. So thank you very much!!❤

    1. Awww that makes me very happy to hear, thank you!! ❤ I was also a bit worried as I heard that Asia and specially Japan is quite strict, but it was totally fine! The Clerkship over there is very different to the one we are used to in Europe, but very manageable and worth it! Rosa x

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