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Bilateral exchange program: University of Rijeka, Faculty of Medicine, Croatia – Hyogo College of Medicine, Nishinomiya, Japan

● Ana Kocijan (University of Rijeka)

saita01.jpg My name is Ana Kocijan and I’ve recently graduated from University of Rijeka, Faculty of Medicine in Rijeka, Croatia. During my sixth year in college, I’ve got a chance to apply to an exchange program between University of Rijeka, Faculty of Medicine and Hyogo College of Medicine, Nishinomiya, Japan and so I did and I’ve been chosen as one of the three students who will travel to Japan and represent our College. I have applied to train at the Department of Pediatrics. I’ve expected to meet some new people and learn about Japanese culture and tradition, along doing my internship, but I’ve got a chance to do even more.

My working day started at 8:30 am. I had to be at the Department meeting every morning before I would go to the outpatient clinic or see a procedure. I spent most of my days at the outpatient clinic, where I got to see many patients with different medical histories and diagnoses. However, a lot of patients were diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which affected me, too. There aren’t many children in Croatia with this disease, so I wasn’t used to seeing such serious diseases in many children. It really made me sad, sometimes to the point where my eyes would get filled with tears because I felt for them and with them, when the doctors announced the diagnosis. I admired the strength of those children because they didn’t seem sad or hurt. My mentor, Professor Yasuhiro Takeshima explained how he is leading a clinical trial where they try to induce exone skipping on a molecular level using an intravenous injection of antisense oligonucleotide, which leads to transforming Duchenne muscular dystrophy to Becker’s type, which is a milder form of the disease.

kanemoto02.jpg I found this very interesting and exciting because, it saddens me to say this, but they never taught us this in Croatia, nor even mentioned that it exists, and the only things I knew about Duchenne muscular dystrophy is that it is a severe disease, its clinical presentation and that the prognosis is not good. That is one more reason why I liked Professor Takeshima’s clinical trial even more, because it taught me that there is always hope, even if it doesn’t seem so sometimes.

Because my Friday afternoon classes were not planned, Doctor Tanaka arranged for me to go and see other departments. I spent one Friday afternoon in the Department of Pediatric surgery, watching a surgeon repair and inguinal hernia in a four month old child. The surgery was very interesting because I’ve never seen a technique like that before.

saita01.jpgI’ve also been to the Department of Urology and I have seen a surgery using the DaVinci robot. I got to wear 3D glasses and observe the surgery. We don’t have this kind of technology in Croatia so it was really interesting, even fun for me.

saita01.jpgI’ve been to the Department of Plastic surgery, too and seen some procedures there, one of which was to repair the arterial-venous malformation, which was a risky procedure, but very successful, and the other one was to repair the eye protrusion due to Graves’ disease. The latter one was very interesting because they used a technique I’ve never seen before, so I really had a great time observing these surgeries.

I did a part of my internship at the NICU, where I got to observe newborn babies, and even got to see a Cesarean section – twice. This was really special to me, because I got into college thinking I will be a neonatologist someday.

All of the doctors who I’ve met during my internship were so nice to me, they asked me a lot about Croatia, and also answered all my questions regarding medicine or Japan in general. They taught me a lot and went out of their way to make arrangements for me in other departments. They even introduced me to a patient, a baby boy named Ichigo, who I’m missing very much because he is adorable.

During our short stay in Nishinomiya, I met a lot of new people and made some new friends. Everyone was really nice to me and helpful. The doctors were all very kind and I admired them because of their attitude towards me – they didn’t make me feel like I was somebody non important, rather than that I felt welcome and like I was a part of the team, even with professors and senior doctors. Despite their high rank and academic title, they talked to me like I was one of them.

Even though I spent a lot of time in the hospital, we had time to go on trips and explore the whole Kansai region. We visited Kyoto, with its various temples and shrines and we even rented out kimonos and walked around the city dressed in them.

saita01.jpgWe went to Nara where we also got to see temples and shrines, but also a beautiful Nara park with a lot of friendly deer.
We did a tea ceremony there, but unfortunately, just a “casual one”.
We visited Kobe with its famous harbor and night view, Kitano-cho, which reminded me of European cities and Chinatown.

We went to Osaka several times, where we’ve seen the view from the top of the Umeda Sky building and ate our first Japanese dishes. I also went to Osaka to a seminar which was held in a famous hotel by one of the world’s renowned doctors, Dr. Yair Reisner. The seminar was interesting, but the whole experience was really fun because we got to hang out with some of our Japanese friends discussing some medical topics, but in a less formal environment.

We visited Mt. Rokko where we saw the “10 million dollar view” – a night view of nearby cities, Osaka and Kobe and it was breathtaking.

saita01.jpgOne weekend was reserved for visiting Wakayama where we learned about Japanese families and lifestyle and how to grow rice, and we took a trip to Mt. Koya-san, which was really beautiful.

I feel very proud and honored to have been given such an amazing opportunity, not only to study in Japan, but to explore the country and learn about its history, to meet people, many of whom I can call friends, and to experience a new, different culture and amazing tradition. I am happy that I got a chance to work with such wonderful people. This experience enriched me in many ways, not only as a young doctor, but as a person, too.

I sincerely hope that this exchange program will last for many years to come, because I think other students should get a chance like this one, too. This has truly been an amazing experience and I can only hope to return to Japan once again.

 

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