The land of plenty

You can fly to the west coast of America, switch planes, hop in a car for a few hours and find yourself in a small north Californian town in less time than it takes to drive from Orkney to Yorkshire. The film selection en route is a little better too…

After such a journey I now find myself in Chico, eager and ready to delve into the intricacies of the American healthcare system and the effect on patient experience through the lens of primary care. The change in locations for me has been swift and huge.

As before, I want to immerse myself within the community as much as possible. This aspect of the project in Orkney came easily; it was very possible in a population of only 400 people to be quite confident that you would indeed see someone again having met them once and as I’ve talked about many times, I was welcomed at events where people knew each other well and where there was palpable effort put into keeping things going. Hoy was very unique in this and already I am struck by the anonymity of this new place, a feeling very familiar after living in London for three years. After only a few days, I find myself wondering where I will find the ‘community’ in this town and what it will look like. I suspect it is here but might just require a little more digging.

After dozing through a few days of plane-induced lethargy, the weekend brought an opportunity to start exploring my temporary home and fulfil some of those all American clichés. Therefore under the watchful eye of my great friend and hostess for the month, Hannah, I took to the wheel and the ‘wrong’ side of the road as we embarked on a shopping trip typical of this neck of the woods: driving between malls with walking strictly kept to a minimum. A culturally rich experience; here’s a few things I learnt along the way…

  1. English muffins come in more than one flavour…after living on an island for a month with only one shop, open sporadically, I now not only reside in a town with a 24 hour gym(I probably won’t be attending at 3am but it’s nice to have the option) but have truly ended up in the land of plenty, where the word ‘choice’ takes on a whole new meaning. The English muffin section, below, seems to adequately illustrate this boasting no fewer than twelve different types…

  1. Americans like to ‘bulk buy’ …need a chocolate milk container as big as your head? I know where you can get one…

  1. When it comes to over the counter medications, the options here exceed anything I’ve ever seen. I am aware, of course, that it is not uncommon to see treatments available without prescription here that would require a signature in the UK. However, I’d never quite seen it on this scale. As I wandered around the aisle dedicated to pills, I was barraged by brand names, slogans and adverts claiming their particular tablet could clear my headache, stop ‘flu in it’s tracks and pretty much change my life right there and then.It was hard not to be in awe at such a sight (the medic in me speaking) but I felt a little terrified at the same time. How was it possible to choose from such an array? and what information are people basing these choices on? It made me more excited than ever to get behind the scenes and into the practice where I would be based for the next month; to hear from both doctor and patient about how things work here and to experience what their relationship might look like within this very different system.

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