The reason I went on this trip was because I wanted to see if, in the future, I’d enjoy working overseas as a qualified doctor.
Now, thanks to my trip, I know I definitely will go back to Africa as a volunteer. But first we should go back to the beginning because I want to talk about Work the World as a service.
I was so stressed at the start because I had to change my travel dates. I had originally planned to travel in September, but found out that I had an exam in August. I wanted time to study for the exam, so I thought I should move my dates back to July.
I was seriously stressed, but the person I was speaking to at Work the World made it super easy. They just kept telling me it wasn’t a problem and that they would help with everything. They were great during the pandemic as well, reassuring me that my placement was still secure even though I had to wait until things were clear. They were in communication with me the whole time and always updated me. It was amazing.
Then before I knew it I was stepping off the plane in Ghana. I couldn’t believe I was finally there! Straight away, the Ghanaian people were so welcoming and enthusiastic — even the immigration officers! It was a great first experience and really reassuring.
We travelled to the house with the Work the World team who had met us at the airport. And when we arrived we enjoyed a meal that had been prepared for us by the chefs in the house. We were so grateful for it after a long journey. It was late when we arrived, so I went straight to bed after that.
The following day we had a day to rest up, then on the Monday the team took us out for our city orientation. We saw a lot that day and got a lot of information, but between us we remembered everything we needed to.
In the afternoon we had our hospital introduction. We went into this big conference room to start the tour. It looked quite modern, so my first thought was that the hospital was going to be better equipped than I thought. But then when we went onto the wards it was clear that wasn’t going to be the case.
Things were really worn down, there were patients everywhere, and I even saw a few flies buzzing around. It was eye-opening, but I hadn’t made any judgments before I got on the plane so it was easier to accept. This was just how things were over there.
The hospital staff were great. I always tried hard to get along with people, saying things like good morning and how are you in the local language. I think that was the key to starting conversations and to getting in the ‘inside’. Showing enthusiasm really helped me get in front of more interesting cases.
There were big differences in resources and equipment between Ghana and more developed countries. I’ve just finished a two week placement in a Belgian gynaecology department as well, so I can really compare the two now.
It’s funny, because I now think that in Belgium we sometimes go overboard with things. When we do blood work for example, I think we test too many things. In Ghana, it’s the opposite extreme. They only test the basic things, where sometimes you might need to know more. It’s the same situation with scans too.
I think there’s probably a middle way that’s somewhere between the two approaches.
There were some challenging experiences as well. In the first days of my placement, another student who chose A&E said that she saw some deaths. I had never seen death before, but I was prepared for it because Work the World took the time before my trip.
Living with other healthcare students helped with this too. Every evening we’d sit and talk about our days. It was good to be able to vent and decompress with like minded people about the things that we’d seen each day.
It was also good being able to talk about the similarities and differences between the healthcare systems in our home countries.
We all really bonded during the time I was there. And we went on weekend trips together — to see elephants in the national park, spend the night in jungle treehouses and things like that. We wanted to make the most of our down time. We were in Ghana after all!
My motto is that you only regret the things you don’t do in life. If you’re thinking about going on a placement like this, that is what I would say to you. The whole experience was amazing and I just say go for it.