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Newsletter August 2020: “Everything you’ve ever wanted is one step outside your comfort zone” TEP Experience

Kinga Mastalerz



When I applied for the TEP, I was based at Szpital Miejski Specjalistyczny Hospital in Krakow, Poland. Working abroad was always my dream. During medical school, I spent 6 months in Belgium on an Erasmus scholarship and I knew exactly how much it gives you to find yourself in a different country, with a foreign language, culture and totally different attitude. I applied for the Trainee Exchange Programme to relive that experience, only in a “grown-up” setting and was lucky enough to be accepted.

I have to be honest that my choice of possible destinations was very spontaneous. I just thought “The Netherlands ends up on top of many health care quality rankings, they must be good”. So I placed it on the top of my list.

My initial visit to Amsterdam was a warm welcome thanks to my mentor, Prof. Preckel, who was my guardian angel the whole time. Finding accommodation in Amsterdam can be tough, but with Prof. Preckel´s help and tips, I had everything ready within a few days. I started my three-month scholarship right at the beginning of the new year. I could profit from the ‘mild’ Dutch winter with 7 degrees Celsius in January and the most beautiful time when tulips bloom in spring. The city was not so overwhelmed with tourists at this time, which was an obvious plus for me. I could easily reach Rijksmuseum with its Rembrandt exposition, all the must-sees with Van Gogh museum and Ann Frank´s house and even cheer for Ajax, when they were doing so well in Champion´s League this year!

But talking about my main interest in this trip… The Academic Medical Center (AMC) at the University of Amsterdam is a temple of patient safety. If you want to learn more about it, develop good habits, find out why protocols actually work, go to Amsterdam. Good organisation and attention to detail is definitely their strong side.  As AMC is the biggest academic hospital in the country, many complex operations take place there and innovative methods are introduced. It is an enormous hospital, so a lot is going on. I was especially satisfied with the part of my stay spent on cardio-anaesthesia as it was totally new to me and I found great mentors who wanted to share their knowledge and experience. I also enjoyed taking part in robot-assisted operations, a bit of neuro-anaesthesia made my stay even more exciting.

I had no idea about Dutch culture before, that’s probably why I was pretty surprised with their directness. While I initially found this difficult, I later realised they were actually giving me feedback with good intentions. Fortunately, the team is quite international and I found those who were going through the same thing as me and helped make things clear. It is true that most Dutch speak English very well, which doesn´t change the fact that they prefer communicating between themselves in their mother tongue. It played a role especially in paediatric anaesthesia when good communication with both parents and a baby was needed.  Even though it was tough at the beginning, I was learning very fast, as directness leads to fast progress.

Furthermore, my visit to Amsterdam influenced a lot my ambitions about passing EDAIC part 1. As I took part in their monthly meetings, at which we discussed typical EDAIC part 1 questions and I got to prepare one month´s topic, I found the motivation to try myself at OLA and I am planning to take EDAIC part 1 this autumn. Dutch residents are very experienced when it comes to EDAIC, as they take it every year to monitor their progress. They recommended to me various ways to improve my learning skills. I find this influence a great advantage of my TEP.

To summarise, I can say that it was not super easy, and at the beginning far out of my comfort zone, but I learnt so much in such a short time! Straight from Amsterdam, I moved to Sweden (where I am based at Karolinska University Hospital), yet another country, yet another language. I look back with a lot of gratitude. My adventure with TEP made me not only a better doctor but also a stronger and more open person, which I wished for. I would do that all over again. Thus everything you´ve ever wanted is one step outside your comfort zone.


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