In a London study abroad program, Graham Brown ’12 got an eye-opening look at how medicine works in the United Kingdom.
Before he’d experienced England’s National Health Service last fall, Graham Brown ’12 (Annandale, Minn.) assumed that free doctor visits would lead to inefficiencies in health care delivery. Then he spent a few weeks shadowing general practice (GP) physicians as part of a Health & Society program offered through King’s College in London, and reconsidered. “When you see patients, your main goal is to make them feel better,” he says. “But lots of people have social or psychological issues as well as physical ones. And they may feel better just talking with the doctor.”
Probably because of the lack of insurance and payment pressures, says Brown, doctor visits are more relaxed in Britain. Physicians can develop a more personal relationship with their patients because they see them more often and with less pressure, which leads to a better understanding of patients’ needs and a higher quality of care. Removing money from the equation also removes the sense that a patient must take something home from each doctor visit, thus alleviating the pressure on physicians to prescribe medicines.
Brown, a chemistry major who is also pre-med, shadowed two GPs, a plastic surgeon, a hematologist, and an HIV/ADIS doctor during his study abroad program. He also took classes in endocrinology and the immune system, but the real learning experience was in the shadowing, he says. “The doctors there treated me like a peer; they instantly respected me because I was planning on going into medicine. The plastic surgeon even asked me if I wanted to scrub in and help with a rhinoplasty.”
Given that he’ d just finished doing summer research on sickle cell anemia at the University of Minnesota, Brown found it especially interesting to shadow a hematologist whose patients suffered from that disease. “Doing research on it first gave me a different perspective on the sickle cell anemia,” he says. “And meeting the patients made me realize what a difference it would make in their lives if there was a decent treatment for their illness.”
While in London, Brown lived in a student apartment in the central part of the city, just five minutes from the King’s College campus and near other students enrolled in his program.
Back at Macalester, he’s finishing up his senior year, researching medical schools to apply to, and playing third base for the college’s baseball team. Having experienced and enjoyed a wide variety of specialties during his term in London, Brown is glad he doesn’t yet have to decide which one to pursue. But he remains certain that he wants to become a doctor. Says the outgoing senior, “It’s one of the few social applications of science.”