Reporter: Brenna Fielding (Warwick University)
Contact at destination: Dr Brigitte Achkar
Year of visit: 2015
Region: Alpe d’Huez, Isere – Near Grenoble
Institution: Groupe medicale de la Meije
Work/Study undertaken: The clinic is very small, with just 2 doctors and 1 interne. When English patients came in, I would clerk them, and do examinations, and help with translation for the doctors/receptionists. I saw a few French patients however the clinic was often very busy so there wasn’t time to spend a long time taking histories in French! Due to the high number of orthopaedic traumas, I had the opportunity to learn how to position and take X rays for a huge range of traumas. I got very good at orthopaedic examinations! I was also able to perform basic examinations, taking blood pressures, performing ECGs, setting casts etc. I also had the chance to suture a variety of wounds. Every day was different as it depended on the type of patient coming in and how busy the resort was. I was there towards the end of the Winter season so it was quieter, but meant the doctors had more time to teach.
Description of destination: Alpe d’Huez is a small town in the French Alps. It is popular for both skiing in winter, and cycling in summer. It has a small resident population and a large turnover of tourists. It is famous for having one of the longest black runs, and the incredibly 21 bends up to the resort which is visited by the Tour de France most years. It is small enough to walk everywhere, and there are buses which go to Grenoble – the nearest city, about 2 hours away.
Were locals friendly? Yes! Everybody there loves the mountains, so if you are a keen skier/climber you will get on with most people. Locals are a bit harder to find as often the resort is full of visitors, but everyone was very friendly.
Was it safe? Absolutely! I was happy walking around alone at night.
What did you do in your spare time? Skiing! I was there towards the end of the season, so there wasn’t a huge amount of snow left. I met some locals with cars and we went on trips to Les Deux Alpes and Serre Chevalier, but these are both 2/3 hours drive away. There is an ice rink, swimming pool, sports centre and small cinema, but if you are not a skier/cyclist I think it would be easy to get bored as the town is quite isolated.
Time of year and climate? March/April. Mix of weather, blizzards, rain, and sunburn! Very variable.
Accommodation? I stayed in a very small flat shared with another young French person working in resort, which I found through a contact given to me by the medical centre. I was lucky as medium-term accommodation is very difficult to find in resort, or is very expensive. Most of the people working in the medical centre live in the valley at the bottom of the mountain and drive up every day.
How did I get there? Flew to Grenoble with easyjet (only possible in ski seasons, no flights out of season!), then a bus from Grenoble to Alpe d’Huez via Bourg d’Oisans.
Medically useful? I saw a huge amount of orthopaedic trauma that was quite different to the type seen in the UK. I had the opportunity to learn about X-rays etc, practice my suturing, and learn a lot about the French medical system. The French use brand names for drugs in prescribing which confused me initially but I managed to get my head around the common ones after a while!
French improved? Definitely! I already had a level of conversational French, but not much medical French. If you don’t know a medical term it is worth trying the English term with a French accent as you might just be right! Living with French people improved my colloquial French, and my fluency and confidence has definitely increased. I learned a lot about French culture and cooking from my flatmate, and made many good friends on the mountain!
Would you do anything differently? I would take less formal clothing – normal attire is jeans and a shirt/smart-ish top. I would have liked to go in season when there are more patients, but the clinic wouldn’t have been able to take me as they are too thinly stretched during the season.
Approximate total cost? Flights cost about £250. Buses in and out of resort add up, depending on how much you want to explore the surrounding area. Food is quite expensive as you end up eating out quite a lot, and food has a premium as it has to be taken up the mountain (cheaper if you can get down to Casino in the valley). I think I spent about £400 for food/leisure etc. If you want to ski you will need insurance, about £100, and a lift pass which is about £250/week or £30/day, so not cheap at all! Total excluding ski related costs ~£700.
Reporter: Alexandra Simmons
Contact at destination: Prof Francoise Carpentier – Chef de Service
Contact Peggy LECOMTE, the secretary for international medical students working at the hospital: Peggy LECOMTE, Secretaire de Faculté – Pôle S2, Pavillon de Neurologie, Hôpital Albert Michallon, Domaine de la Merci 38706 La Tronche, Grenoble , France . 0033(0)0476765796 Peggy.firstname.lastname@example.org
Year of visit: 2005 – 2006
Institution: Hôpital Albert Michallon
Department: A&E and combined assessment (Urgences Medicales), ICU
Work / Study undertaken
Mostly spent time clerking in patients, therefore taking histories, doing examinations and ordering/chasing up investigations. I also attended ward rounds throughout the day. There were additionally lectures/ tutorials for French medical students on A & E and paediatrics in the afternoons that I was able to attend.
Description of the service and department
Urgences Medicales was a busy emergency department and acute receiving unit (for GP referrals). It is attached to the surgical emergency department where medical students can see orthopaedic cases and do suturing.
Description of the destination
Grenoble is on the edge of the French Alpes and is therefore surrounded by mountains, although the city itself is in a valley and very flat. It is also surrounded by ski resorts, the closest being approximately 40 minutes drive.
Were the local people friendly?
I generally found French doctors and medical students in A & E relatively unfriendly but this was sometimes because they were very busy. However, everyone else in the hospital was very friendly and were always trying to practice their English with you. The Grenobloise are generally a friendly bunch.
Did you feel safe and if not why not? Yes, Grenoble is a relatively safe city from my experience.
What did you do in your spare time ?
As there were so many ski resorts nearby, I spent a lot of time snowboarding, which can be as cheap as 9 euros for the day at some of the local resorts with a student card. I also had a bike and made several trips around the city and further a field. The city has plenty of bars, nightclubs, coffee shops, shops and museums, although sometimes it was too cold to go out!
Is there anything that you would particularly recommend others to do?
Climb the Bastille… there is an amazing view.
What time of the year were you there? What was the climate like?
November to January. It was very very cold, but it was always sunny and there was very little rain and some snow.
What was your accommodation like?
I sublet a room in a French student flat approximately 10 minutes cycle from the hospital. There was a double room, living room and large kitchen which I shared with 6 other students.
Was it provided? No
If not who arranged it?
I arranged this myself through a contact in Grenoble , but I think I was quite lucky to get this accommodation, as it can sometimes be quite difficult to sublet a room in France .
How much did it cost? 300 euros per month.
Did you enjoy your visit? Yes, it was brilliant.
Did you find it useful medically? If so, in what way?
I was in my 5th year of medicine and therefore had the advantage of being confident in my clinical skills, which I believe is important when you are working in a foreign language. French medical students are sometimes more actively involved in patient care as in the A&E department, students or externes are the ones who generally clerk patients in. This was certainly very useful for history taking and general clinical skills and patient management.
Has it improved your French?
Definitely. It is important to speak some French beforehand and maybe some medical French, but you pick this up very quickly.
Has it increased your knowledge of French culture?
Certainly, as I was living with 6 other French students I learnt a lot about food, cooking and wine!
How did you get there?
Edinburgh – London , London – Grenoble with Easyjet and Ryanair. Both of these airlines fly from London to Grenoble .
What was the approximate total cost? £500
Is there any other information that you think may be useful?
There are quite a few Erasmus medical students from all over Europe working at the hospital and I attended several Erasmus events, which was great for meeting people. Also if you get invited to a party by anyone French, it’s a really good way to learn French!