When beginning to plan my medical elective, all I really knew was that I wanted to go to a developing country to experience health care and life in a completely different environment and was leaning towards Africa.
After researching for a while I settled on going to Ghana with Work the World. The country itself seemed like the perfect introduction to Africa: friendly, safe, stable. Work the World seemed like a fantastic company; just from asking a few questions on the phone and looking at the website I thought they seemed friendly and eager to help. So I booked it, along with a few friends.
Before leaving, everything was made very easy. They send you an info pack with all relevant information included; as far as I can remember everything I would have needed to know was answered in there. They even give you an advised timeline of when you should have organised specific things such as visas and flights. If not, they are very happy to answer any specific questions and are extremely amenable when sorting out living arrangements, rooms and the village experience. As far as arranging hospital placements go, you organise those with the UK team before leaving and are given an itinerary before you go. However, in my experience, Joe (the programme director in Ghana) was very approachable and willing to rearrange things while you are out there.
Obviously, this is within reason, and if they are very busy this may not be possible.
Arriving in Ghana
So, when we arrived we were greeted at Accra airport by Prince and stayed the night in a hotel organised by the Work the World. The next day we got the STA coach (which you may become very familiar with depending on how you spend your weekends) to Takoradi and were taken to the Work the World house. After being given a house orientation by Ophelia and Alhassan and a town orientation by Prince we felt very settled in and were left to explore on our own. Exploring the local area was one of the best aspects of the elective for me and I would strongly advise you get out on your own and take time to check out the area. Just a 5 minute walk from the house and you are given a completely authentic experience. You truly are off the beaten track. Also, you can visit the market, local bars, and beaches remarkably easily.
Joe handles the hospital orientation showing you round all the wards and introducing you to the staff. It's an eye opening and very interesting experience. I chose to do the split placement, so I spent time at both the larger regional hospital and the smaller district hospital. I would really recommend doing this, obviously if you can afford it, as although the district Hospital is smaller, I found I was able to become much more involved there and became part of the team. In my third week there I was lucky as a surgical team from a charitable organisation, Operation Hernia, were visiting and were down one surgeon. I was asked to assist and got to play a large role in week of surgery. This meant working longer hours, but looking back the experience was invaluable. Time in the district hospital was certainly enjoyable and educational, particularly time spent in Psychiatry which was a very memorable experience. I also did time in Obs and Gynae, general medicine and A&E.
In my final week, I did the Village Experience in Fasin Village. I chose to do this with my girlfriend and I'm very glad I did as I can imagine it would possibly get a little lonely if you were alone. This is not to say we were not looked after though. We were assigned a host family and village guide (the son of the family) who showed us around, fed us and involved us in their evenings. We went to church one night which was fantastic. The singing and dancing was amazing! Work wise, we spent time in the local nurse-led clinic, which was good. We had the opportunity to take histories and be involved in management decisions. Spending time with the nurse, Angela was fun. I would definitely recommend doing the village experience - probably my favourite week.
The last thing to really talk about is the weekends. They were the undoubted highlights. You have the opportunity to do such fantastic things for such affordable prices. We did a mixture of relaxing beach holidays (Beyin beach, Busua, Butre) and more exciting stuff (climbing Wli falls in the Volta region, sleeping in the rainforest at Kakum national park, Kumasi, and we did the trip to the north to Mole NP and Larabanga). I would definitely recommend going north if you get chance.
Other highlights included weekly Fante lessons (interesting and a good laugh - hospital staff and locals really appreciate you making an effort with the language) and BBQ night. And I should mention Ophelia's food which was amazing.
Overall, I was there for 8 weeks and had a really fantastic time. From a convenience point of view, organising the elective couldn't have been better, but once you are there you are certainly not wrapped in cotton wool. You are free to do whatever you want but knowing you have the support if needed really does provide peace of mind.
Tips would be: Get the Bradt book, bring water proofs, travel mosquito net, you can bring an old mobile phone but they're cheap enough over there if you need - Prince will show you where. Oh and plenty of mosquito spray, I couldn't find DEET there. And I was glad I packed some after bite relief stuff. You will get bitten.