One of the main reasons I wanted to go on an overseas elective was so that I could compare it to what we have here in the UK.
The NHS is amazing, yet a lot of people complain about it or have a sense of entitlement around it. So I wanted to visit a country where free healthcare isn’t a given.
It also just sounded like a lot of fun. I had the opportunity to do it, so I thought why not?
I was originally due to travel 18 months ago, but then covid hit so I had to postpone my trip. So, rather than teaching me new skills, my experience in Ghana helped develop the ones I already had.
Personally, I actually think going later on was better for me. I was a lot more confident in what I was doing, I’d finished the course and graduated so I felt more grounded than I might have done.
When I got to the airport and through immigration, a member of the Work the World team was there waiting for me and another girl who was doing her elective at the same time. It was nice meeting someone else in a similar situation to me at that early stage.
On Monday we went out for our city orientation. It was great because there was a big group of us who had arrived on the same day, so we were all in the same boat. The other students who had already been in Ghana for a while were away on a weekend trip, so it was nice to go in slowly just getting used to the first half of my housemates.
I think if we hadn’t had such a comprehensive orientation, it would have been more of a challenge getting to grips with the city. Over the next four weeks, we went on to do most of the things the Work the World team suggested during that orientation.
It was reassuring having a local person to tell us where to go and what to do, and knowing those were safe options that previous students had experienced.
We went to our placement hospital for the first time that afternoon. I had some idea of what to expect based on what Work the World had told me before my trip, but kept an open mind going in.
I did see a lot of hardship while I was there. I knew before going in that if people could afford treatment they wouldn’t get what they needed. But actually seeing that in real life was a different feeling. Being involved in a patient’s care then having that patient being turned away because they didn’t have the funds was challenging.
When I was in A&E and triaging patients, a man came in quite poorly. He was really delirious and obviously needed oxygen. But the family couldn’t afford it, so he didn’t get it. That patient eventually died.
Herbal medicine plays a big role in Ghana too, and not always in a good way. One patient came in with an open fracture that had obviously happened a while ago. They had rubbed some sort of herbal medicine into it thinking that would fix the problem.
We know almost intuitively that herbal medicine can’t fix a broken leg, but when it’s deeply ingrained in culture, why wouldn’t you think herbal medicine was the answer?
Another case was a little girl who had been ill for months. They had been treating her with herbal medicine outside of the hospital, but by the time she came to A&E it was too late for her. You could see that in practise of the doctors and nurses — they knew there was nothing they could do.
Because Work the World gives you flexibility in the way they arrange your placement, I managed to see lots of different areas of the hospital. I wanted to see some babies being born, so I spent a bit of time in OBG.
I also went out into the community one day to visit a school. I even got to see the NICU, which was eye opening. One afternoon I popped down to the mental health unit because I wanted to see how their mental health provisions compared to what we have in the UK.
After placement each day, we’d come back to the house and chat about our experiences in the hospital. It was nice being able to compare stories with other students in the same boat as me. But it was also good to have a group of people to chat to about anything other than the hospital placement. The days were quite involved, so coming back to the house and having a break and socialising was great.
Then we had two days every weekend to get out and explore further afield in Ghana. On the first weekend we went to Mole National Park where we stayed in a beautiful hotel with an infinity pool that overlooks an elephant watering hole. The next weekend we went to a place called Busua Beach and tried out surfing, which was fun, but I was more content sitting on the beach and drinking cocktails!
On the other weekends we did things like staying in huts in the rainforest and visiting other beaches. On one day, we visited a village on stilts in a lake. But we were surprised to learn that the houses were very much ‘on the grid’. They all had satellite TV, and my phone signal was better there than anywhere else I’d been in Ghana!
If you’re worried about going away by yourself, or you’re concerned you’ll feel lonely while you’re there, you don’t need to be. The house is full of other healthcare students, the staff are super supportive — you won’t feel worried when you get there. Just go for it!