"'Sawasdee,' a traditional Thai salutation meaning both 'hello' and 'goodbye', continues to echo through my head each time I think about my international psychiatry externship during my 2nd year of residency. My stint in Bangkok, Thailand was one of the best experiences of my residency training and I continue to have fond memories of the month I was lucky enough to rotate at the Chulalongkorn Hospital and work with some of the friendliest, most gracious people I have ever met.
"While there, I trained under Dr. Rasmon Kalayasiri, (a substance abuse researcher who collaborates with Yale's own Dr. Robert Malison), and shadowed Chulalongkorn child psychiatry residents as they completed their daily clinical duties and didactics. Needless to say, the experience was both incredibly fun and enriching. I was fascinated to get a glimpse of how psychiatry practice and training differ from their counterparts in the United States. Thai-unique, non-American elements, including the open air design of the hospital, traditional white nurse's uniforms (complete with caps), purple patient uniforms/gowns, and the emphasis on exercise for the patients were just a few of the many interesting things I witnessed.
"All of the psychiatry residents were young (in their early 20s) and the majority of them lived together in spare quarters near the hospital. As a result, the kinship among the residency class was similar to that of a large family, namely in the closeness that can develop, but this 'family' was not at all exclusive; I was warmly embraced into their group, and any hesitation I had about traveling so far by myself disappeared upon my meeting these people.
"Highlights of my trip included singing group karaoke, staying in a traditional Thai house in a remote part of the country, exploring a floating market, and visiting some of their homes. I was delighted to spend my evenings with the residents as they poked fun at my exuberant appetite for their delicious cuisine; on weekends they were my personal tour guides as I visited all the spectacular sights in Bangkok.
"With regard to the research component, I had the opportunity to visit multiple substance abuse rehab facilities. One rehab center, which was particularly memorable, was run by Buddhist monks and open to anyone with a substance use disorder, including international clientele. The patients I met there described drinking a concoction of herbs prepared by one elderly monk (apparently the sole proprietor of the recipe) to facilitate their detoxification. Patients at this center were taught how to meditate, to listen to their bodies, and to acquire strength and inner peace. They would awaken early in the morning and perform chores to keep the facility clean and well-maintained. Art was used therapeutically, and the patient artwork on display included an array of stunning sculptures and paintings.
"Indeed, the opportunity to learn about one's specialty through a different culturally lens is one that I heartily recommend seizing. Just as recreational travel always has the remarkable effect of expanding one's perspective, traveling for educational gain stretches the scope of learning while invigorating, rather than enervating. I have made friends as well as professional contacts in Bangkok, and look forward to reuniting with them someday declaring: 'Sawasdee!'"
Dr. Christina J. Lee, Yale Psychiatry Faculty