Imperial medical students to gain healthcare experience in Nepal


Geling, Nepal. CC BY 2.0 Jean-Marie Hullot/Flickr

Geling, Nepal. CC BY 2.0 Jean-Marie Hullot/Flickr

First-year medical students will experience community healthcare in remote Nepal close-up this autumn following a new charity partnership.

The project ‘Imperial College Enables’ (ICE) is a collaboration between Imperial’s undergraduate medical school, the medical students’ union and Community Action Nepal, a UK charity founded by Doug Scott CBE who in 1975 made the first British ascent of Everest.

Among the poorest countries in the world, Nepal was hit by one of the worst earthquakes in its history last April, killing more than 8,000 people, injuring 20,000 and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. Many are still living in tents with no access to education or healthcare.

It will help our students develop their knowledge, skills and compassion through humanitarian work, develop a sense of global citizenship and ethical conduct.

– Martin Lupton

Associate Dean and Head of Undergraduate Medicine

ICE will give Imperial medical students the opportunity to travel to Nepal for three weeks in September 2016 between their first and second year. They will shadow Community Action Nepal’s nurses in health posts of the Himalayan foothills, and then bring these experiences back to their medical practice in the UK.

As well as interacting with the healthcare team, the project will provide opportunities to teach English to Nepalese children, learning simple Nepali in return. They’ll spend time at the Bahrabise school for deaf children assisting with project work, expanding their communication skills and exploring cultural aspects of health and disease.

The exchange marks the start of what Martin Lupton, Associate Dean and Head of Undergraduate Medicine, hopes will be a long-term, mutually-beneficial partnership for both countries.

“This initiative aims to support medical students to look beyond their own personally-focussed needs and interests,” he explains. “It will help our students develop their knowledge, skills and compassion through humanitarian work, develop a sense of global citizenship and ethical conduct.

“As the project evolves we want to adopt a number of health centres in the foothills of the Himalayas which we will re-build and re-equip [following the earthquake]. They will represent an ongoing commitment by the whole medical school, faculty and students to improve the health and wellbeing of a profoundly disadvantaged community.

“We hope that some of our students will continue their relationship with the region after they have qualified and use their expertise to help in areas such as HIV prevention.” 

The ICE project aims to provide an opportunity open to all, regardless of background or circumstances. The School of Medicine is fundraising to make the project fully-funded for the students selected to take part.

The ICE project

Professor Mary Morrell, Head of Years 1–2 MBBS/BSc and ICE project leader, has herself volunteered and carried out healthcare research in Nepal. She explains that the students will encounter many health concerns—from sexually-transmitted diseases such as HIV, basic hygiene and excessive alcohol consumption. One of the goals of the project is to see how our students can help to raise awareness of these issues whilst in Nepal.

“Alcohol is widespread in many rural areas, and available to all age groups without any restriction,” she explains. “People begin drinking early, which can have health implications.

“There is also little in the way of culturally-relevant or appropriate health information. Brochures that show hand-washing and teeth-brushing techniques, for example, have been translated to Nepalese but then depict westerners.

“As part of our selection and training weekends, we’re asking our students to suggest ideas for projects that will contribute to better health outcomes in Nepal.”

Selection and training

About thirty students will take part in the project in 2016, travelling in groups of eight or ten. Within each group students will take specific roles—for example, liaison with the sirdar (the Nepalese group leader), medical/first aid, treasurer, and environmental, communication and education officers.

They will spend a few days in Kathmandu and then travel in small groups on foot and camping between health posts and schools.

An interactive weekend is planned in Yorkshire in March, which will enable the students to experience living together, being outdoors, establish their fitness levels, and discuss ideas for projects. 

A second weekend will be held in Snowdonia in June where students will hear talks from expedition medics and those who have worked in Nepal, practise evacuation and rescue.

The future

“An important aspect of the project is the impact it will have in the School of Medicine going forward,” explains Professor Morrell.

“Students who travel to Nepal at the start of their medical careers will witness first-hand healthcare that is very different from that available in the NHS. ICE aims to use some of the data collected during the project in Year 2 to shown the links between healthcare provision and disease. We hope they will come back and share these experiences with us.”


Ben Campion

Ben Campion
Faculty of Medicine Centre

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