This is the most unusual medical elective you’ve ever heard of.
By the time you’ve read this post, you’re going to agree.
In fact, it’s the most unique medical elective we’ve ever heard of, and we’ve been doing this for a long time.
When we first heard about this unusual opportunity in Sri Lanka, we had no idea what we were in for.
And when we sent someone from our Operations Team into the forest to check it out, he came back with a look on his face that said “You’re not going to believe this, but...”
Not quite what we imagined...
It all started when we got a tip from one of our contacts. He told us there was a doctor running an ‘unusual’ hospital in the middle of a forest in Sri Lanka.
We sent someone to investigate, and what he found in that forest was not your typical white-coat-and-stethoscope situation.
This hospital had no IVs, no blood banks, no heart-rate monitors…. And the doctor wasn’t practising any medicine you’d recognise.
Into the forest
Our man on the ground arrived at the hospital. He found only a few single-storey huts in a clearing in the forest. Was this the right place?
He was there to meet the head doctor who was also the owner of the hospital. But where was he?
He looked around to see smoke billowing from a chimney on top of one of the huts farthest away. Maybe he’d find who he was looking for in there.
Here’s what happened as described by our man on the ground:
‘I ducked as I entered this tiny door and I was hit by a wave of heat from the fire at the back of the hut.
I glanced around and saw small clay pots everywhere. They were all over the shelves, windowsills, chairs, the floor.... They had these grey, green and brown pastes inside. And the ones on the fire were bubbling away.
There was a man sitting on a stool in the corner. His grey hair and lined face said he was well into his 60s, but he looked strong and athletic, like he’d been working hard all his life.
There were piles of dried leaves and what looked like tree bark next to him. And to his front was a huge wooden pestle and mortar. He was throwing in ingredients then using a huge stick to pound them into paste.
He saw me, smiled, and then stood up and walked towards me. He nodded, motioning towards the stick he was holding and passed it to me. I held it by the top, but I couldn’t support its weight so had to hand it straight back.
He said “Heavy, yes?”, laughing at me as he sat back down to his work.
Then there was a hand on my shoulder. I spun around to see a man in a white shirt, a sarong and a pair of flip flops.
He extended a hand and introduced himself, “I’m Dr. Wijesinghe, nice to meet you”’.
The man, the myth
We need to take a moment to explain the living legend that is Dr. Wijesinghe.
To quickly paint a picture, when Wijesinghe walks into a ward, patients seem starstruck.
When you speak to them, all they want to talk about is how Dr. Wijesinghe is their hero for curing their scoliosis, or their diabetes, or their slipped disc, or whatever they came in with.
He doesn’t charge local people for treatments, but they come with money all the same. They wrap their donations in betel leaves—a symbol of good fortune and prosperity.
So why is he so highly revered?
Dr. Wijesinghe’s is the youngest in a respected familial line of doctors who practise 3000-year-old Hindu tree medicine—Ayurveda.
Ancient medicine in modern times
Ayurveda is an ancient but sophisticated medical system, literally translated as ‘life knowledge’.
Without getting into the nitty gritty, it’s an approach to healthcare that involves lifestyle interventions and medicinal treatments.
But there are no labs out in the forest. Medicines and ointments are made from herbs, leaves, flowers and tree barks gathered from the woods.
Now, your first reaction might be that this sounds like hocus pocus. And that’s understandable—you’re from a country where science-based medicine is the norm.
But local patients swear by Ayurveda.
Not-so-local patients do too. People seeking Dr. Wijesinghe’s treatments come from countries with the most modern healthcare systems. England, Australia, America…. All over the world.
A medical student’s perspective
Ashley Lowrey is a medical student, and she spent a week with Dr. Wijesinghe and his team.
“I remember an older lady who came to the hospital with her family. She was on a homemade stretcher made from leaves and bamboo.
She had a severe back problem.
The doctor suggested that as the family lived nearby, the patient should return for treatment each day. He believed that, over time, he could help her.
It was fascinating—there was no immediate result for the patient but the treatment seemed to lessen her pain.
Perhaps it was her faith in the medicine, or knowing that she was finally receiving treatment that helped her.
The treatments weren’t necessarily evidence based or scientific, but there was a point to them.
How patients viewed their condition played a big part. It seemed like there was a psychological benefit that was almost religious in nature.”
There’s only one thing for it...
If you want to understand what’s happening at Dr. Wijesinghe’s forest hospital, you have to go and see it with your own two eyes.
If you’re a medical student, we can facilitate that for you. We have the contacts, the infrastructure, and the experience.
There are merits to independently organising your elective in less remote places, and kudos if you manage it. But to access an elective experience as unusual as this, you need serious experts who can professionally plan the trip.
A trip like this is a once-in-a-lifetime deal for most people. You want to squeeze the most out of the experience, and we can help you do that. You’ll avoid all the usual pitfalls and we will connect you with hospitals and medical professionals who will change the course of your career.
You can get some basic information about how our service works by tapping this link.
But I highly recommend talking through your options with our team. So please drop your details below and someone (a real person) will get back to you.