Dr. Sue Hill, MA, PhD, FRCA
Chairperson, ESA Examinations Committee
2016 is an important landmark year in European Examinations and Assessments. For the first time we translated the OLA into a non-European language: Chinese. This development complements the increasing co-operation between the Chinese Society of Anesthesiologists and ESA. Within mainland China seven centres opened for the OLA including two in Beijing, two in Shanghai, and the rest in other provinces including Chengdu.
As a gesture of support, I travelled to Chengdu to meet the president of the Chinese Society, Professor Jing Xu, and help supervise the OLA in their classroom in an impressive simulation centre on the 6th floor of one of their high-rise hospital buildings.
Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in Southwest China, has a population of around 11 million – equivalent to the entire population of Belgium! The West China Hospital occupies a large area in the southern part of the city within the inner ring-road. There are five high-rise blocks for patient care on site, with two other blocks on distant sites. The OLA took place on the 6th floor of one of these blocks, which houses a simulation centre. The Anaesthesiology training scheme has only been in existence for twenty years, starting with just a handful of residents in 1996. There are now more than thirty residents who have trained in US-style for five years, one of which is non-operative on medical and surgical wards. After completing training they become an “attending” specialist; after research publications and higher degrees they become associate professors and a few become full professors. It is a very hierarchical system.
Most of the anaesthetists I met could speak English to varying degrees and were very interested in comparing their knowledge with that expected by European standards. Chengdu, indeed the whole of China, is six hours ahead of Central European Summer Time, which would have meant starting the OLA at 8 pm local time, if it were taken at the same time as Europe. However, we arranged for it to start at 5 pm local time – three hours before Europe but no communication could take place as China would complete at 8 pm, at which time Europeans would be ready to start. Hospitality began before the OLA – we were treated to Starbuck’s (yes, it is ubiquitous in its presence) coffee and cakes to provide energy to tackle the questions.
Everything went very smoothly, there were no Internet or connectivity problems – despite the Chinese Internet being, surprisingly, rather slow. We ran to time, everyone had finished and seen their results as well as reviewed individual questions by 8 pm local time. As a reward we all went to dinner at a local restaurant and I renewed my acquaintance with Sichuan food (yes, I can use chopsticks!).
Having travelled so far, I took advantage of a weekend in Chengdu. Chinese hospitality is renowned and this visit was no exception. My hosts arranged for one of their trainees to be my guide the entire weekend: Dr. Xu Zhao spoke fluent English as his mother was an English teacher. I wanted to see the hospital, especially the operating theatres. We went to the main theatres occupying two floors of the fifth outpatient building: 50 operating theatres on each floor of this building and two more suites in different buildings – a staggering number for a single hospital. On Saturday they run elective lists in a third of their theatres, so it was busy considering it was a weekend. There are no anaesthetic rooms, which I am used to having; patients being anaesthetised on the operating table. The equipment was modern and anaesthetic records electronic. Each theatre had an anaesthesia cart with everything you might need for a straight forward anaesthesia. There was no assistant for the anaesthetist, who had to prepare their own equipment and drugs. Only MAC 2 blades were present – very different from the MAC 3 and 4s we use in the UK; the Chinese are small people. Interestingly, food is provided free of charge with a restaurant inside the theatre complex. I was impressed with the whole size of the hospital – but had to remember how many people live in the city and surroundings.
On Sunday I had asked to visit the Panda Breeding Institute, which is internationally known for its successful breeding programme for these endangered bears. I had visited ten years previously and it was immediately obvious that the centre had expanded both in size and in the number of visitors, especially foreigners. We had a perfect day with sunshine, unusual for the smog-ridden city, and the pandas were enjoying the warmth. It was a great highlight of a visit that I hope will encourage our Chinese colleagues to join many other non-Europeans in taking the EDAIC.