As a second year medical student with a long summer break to fill, I felt that a month-long medical placement which would also allow me the opportunity to experience a completely different culture would be ideal preparation for my clinical years. I was keen on Africa, but wanted to experience a country that was off the typical tourist-trail. I was fortunate enough to stumble upon the Work the World website and after reading about Ghana and encouraging a few friends to come along too, there was no turning back!
Preparing for the trip was made incredibly easy. Almost everything is covered in the Ghana Info Pack, and when I had any questions the answer was just a phone call away. After talking with Lewis on the phone I decided to split my placement between General Medicine and Orthopaedics. Obviously having only just finished second year I was concerned that I would not be able to make the most out of the placement and would be out of my depth. However this definitely was not the case. In fact I found General Medicine so useful and interesting that I ended up spending the whole time there (Joe, the Programme Manager in Ghana, was able to make changes whilst you were out there, so it was all very flexible).
On arrival in Accra, stepping out of the airport terminal into the intense humidity and mob of Ghanaian taxi drivers was made a lot easier by Prince and Al Hassan who instantly made us feel at home! We spent the first night at a hotel before making the bus journey to Takoradi the next morning. Takoradi itself was a great place to be based. The hospital, market and beach were a brief taxi ride away, and most importantly there was a bar and internet café only a short walk down the road! The people were incredibly friendly and we soon got used to the shouts of "obruni!" (white man!).For those keen on football, there was no shortage of kids desperate for a game right outside the house....on one condition - that you buy them the ball!
We were given a grand tour of Takoradi by Prince on our first day. We learned how to haggle for taxis, the street corner to visit if we needed a phone card and the best places to eat for lunch. Joe also sat down with us individually to talk through the placement. Al Hassan showed us around the house and we met Ophelia who cooked some fantastic exotic meals for us over the month. I never realised rice could be cooked in so many different ways!
I was based at the regional hospital - it's the biggest hospital in Ghana's Western Region and so it was very, very busy. At first it's a massive culture shock. The wards are dirty, there's no respect for patient privacy, the orthopaedics ward is on the 4th floor (and the lift hasn't worked for 10 years!). However I soon realised that in order to make the most out of the placement you've got to embrace these minor difficulties!
Most mornings began with a ward round led by one of the senior doctors. I learned about many diseases which are just not seen in the UK. Malaria, typhoid and sickle cell crises were very common. Of particular note was a case of Steven Johnson's Syndrome, something I'd never even heard of before. Once I'd shown interest by asking questions and reading up on the patients' notes the doctors were very keen to involve me and began firing questions my way! It was particularly interesting to meet some 2nd year Ghanaian medical students. They start on the wards from year 1, and so were more clinically competent, whilst I knew more basic science - so we were able to exchange knowledge! The great advantage of Ghana is that doctors and nurses speak English and so there was very little difficulty communicating. When speaking to patients, however, the doctors used the local dialect "Fante". Fortunately we had lessons at the house once a week and so picked up some of the basics!
After ward rounds I sat in on diabetes and hypertension clinics. This was a fantastic opportunity to practise performing general examinations on patients. It also highlighted the difference in culture - one patient came in and admitted that he hadn't been taking his medication, and the doctor just told him to go home and stop wasting his time!
There's plenty of free time after placement in the afternoon and Africa beach and Takoradi market were particularly popular. I think I'm scarred for life after visiting the meat market! Being there during the World Cup was just surreal and after joining in the celebrations with a few housemates when Ghana beat Serbia, we were interviewed live on national television! The weekends give you far more time to travel and experience Ghana. Beyin Beach Resort (a 3 hour tro-tro ride away) was a particular highlight. I'm told the Volta region was amazing, however having been lucky enough to be struck down with a bout of Malaria, I spent that weekend in hospital in Accra (a very nice hospital it was though!).
Overall Ghana was an amazing experience. The people are incredibly warm and welcoming and Work the World were fantastic support both in preparation and when I was out there. I'd love to go back one day, and if you're looking for a truly unique African experience then Ghana is the place to go!
A few tips: Bring at least 2 towels (since you sweat a lot more out there, they can get very smelly quickly!), The Bradt Guide is priceless, bring an old mobile phone and make sure it's unlocked so you only have to buy a sim card.