University of Birmingham 2011
As soon as I began my course I knew that I wanted to go overseas and had somewhere in Africa in mind for my 2nd year elective. After coming across their website and with numerous recommendations from other students, Work the World seemed like the perfect choice to organise my trip and they certainly did not disappoint.
After deciding that Ghana was to be the destination of choice I contacted WTW and booked my trip, which couldn’t have been a simpler process; and with 2nd year assignments piling up and placements looming that was exactly what I needed when organising my elective! From there WTW took over and all that was left for me to do was organise flights, insurance and health preparations... all of which they can also advise you on if you need some guidance. Overall WTW could not have been more helpful, from their initial contact to pre-departure phone call, they will make sure you are fully prepared for your trip and are always at the other end of the phone if you need to ask them any questions.
Flights and Arrival
There are several airlines that fly to Ghana. We flew to with Brussels Airlines, which was straightforward with just one transfer at Brussels and reasonably priced. I would definitely recommend them. However, you can also fly direct with British Airways, which other students also highly recommended.
When we arrived at the airport in Accra sporting our blue Work the World t-shirts we were met by a smiling Alhassan who instantly put us at ease and the 10 of us piled into our first ‘tro tro’ (minibus) and were driven to our hotel for the night in Accra. The next morning we then embarked on the 4 hour coach ride to Takoradi and got our first taste of the country that we would be calling home for the next 4 weeks...from the hustle and bustle of Accra, to the coastline and colourful villages that we drove past, we were excited by what our time in Ghana had in store for us.
When we arrived at the house in Takoradi we were greeted by Ophelia (who will make you the most amazing Ghanaian food while you are there!) We were given a tour of the house, and then were left to settle in and meet the other students already living there.
The next day, Joe (the programme manager) took us all to the regional hospital where we would be working and showed us around all of the different wards and departments. Then in the afternoon, Prince (programme representative) took us into town so that we could change money and get local sim cards, as well as pointing out where anything else we might need was. Visiting town is definitely an experience like nothing you will ever see at home and you can be a bit overwhelmed at first by how hectic it is, but you will soon get used to it and become an expert haggler too!
During our time in Ghana the house really began to feel like home and the staff - Alhassan, Joe and Ophelia, were always on hand for anything that we needed. People had said that you all become like one big family living in the house, and it’s true you really do! On Tuesdays everyone would gather together for Fante (the local language) lessons, where we were taught some basic conversational terms as well as some medical ones. Although most people in Ghana speak English very well, it is still nice to be able to say a few words in Fante (or at least attempt to!) and the locals really appreciate it too. The weekly barbeque on Thursday evenings is definitely the highlight of the week. As well as some delicious food and dancing to catchy Ghanaian music, one week we were treated to some cultural dancing and drumming, which we all joined in with and had a fantastic night!
I split my time at the hospital with 2 weeks spent on the male surgical ward and 2 weeks on obstetrics and gynaecology. I found that splitting up my placement gave me the chance to make the most out of my experience and to get a good overview of the whole hospital. Your placement is basically what you make of it and the more proactive you are and the more questions you ask/interest you show, the more you will be trusted to do. Days at placement are generally from 8.30am to 2pm at the latest (if you do morning shifts) leaving you plenty of time in the afternoon to relax or get out and about. However you can also do some afternoon shifts and even nights too if you wish (we discovered that going in for a few hours at night meant you were almost guaranteed to see births if you would like to experience this!).
I found that a good way to get involved was to work closely with the Ghanaian student nurses, who are very good and do alot on the ward. The doctors are also very friendly and are happy to answer your questions and teach you more about the conditions you are seeing. Accompanying the doctors on their ward round is a good way to familiarise yourself with the ward and the patients. Useful things to take with you on placement are definitely alcohol gel and gloves, as although they do have these, their supplies are limited. I also found that on the surgical ward inparticular, disposable aprons and face masks were handy to have, and the staff really appreciate any equipment that you bring with you.
The conditions in the hospital are completely different to the UK and at times can be quite shocking. However, the best thing to do is just to go in there with an open mind and accept that this is the way that things happen in Ghana. By all means you can ask questions as to why something may be a certain way, but remember to always be respectful and try not to judge what you see. Overall though I definitely learnt alot from my time spent at the hospital and got to see and experience things that I never would at home.
Afternoons and Weekends
In the afternoons after placement we often went to Africa Beach Hotel where there is a lovely pool to relax by or you can go onto the actual beach. Other things to do include visiting the market in town or the internet cafe (which is very near to the house). In the evenings you can go out to local bars such as Harbour View or Champs, or just unwind in the house and discuss the day’s events! All of the places that past students have found are good (and not so good) to visit are written down in the ‘green book’ in the house and this will become your bible, along with the Bradt guide book, which is also very useful, especially to take away with you at weekends. I would definitely recommend travelling at weekends, and if you want to travel to somewhere a bit further afield it is fine for you to take Friday off towards the end of your placement as long as you let the ward know.
During my 4 weeks I visited Cape Coast, Kakum National Park, Green Turtle Lodge, Escape 3 Points and Wli Falls (my personal favourite and a definite highlight!) Ghana is a beautiful country full of amazing people and it would be a shame to not see as much of it as you can whilst you are there.
Overall I would say that Ghana makes an excellent choice for an elective placement abroad. At no point did I feel unsafe or unwelcome, and whether you travel with friends or on your own, Work the World will ensure that everything is taken care of so that all you need to do is enjoy the experience.