When I first looked into a Work the World placement, I thought it sounded like a great experience. I had always wanted to do something like that, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity, especially as a couple of friends were also interested.
Work the World’s house in Lusaka was great—it even had its own pool. The building itself was huge, and even though we shared bedrooms they were big enough that we had our own space.
The house had a catering team and a housekeeper. This meant meals were prepared for us daily and the house was always clean. There was both a cooked and continental breakfast ready before placement each day. If there was anything we wanted to eat that wasn’t there, we just asked and it would be there the next day.
We had language lessons twice a week, allowing us to learn about the local language (Nyanja), but also a bit about Zambian culture.
After a day on placement, we used the pool when we could and played cards on the terrace. It was nice to have some down time when returning from the hospital.
Every Thursday evening, the Work the World team hosted a braai (the Zambian word for a BBQ). There were traditional drummers and dancers, and the whole team joined in with us—it was a lot of fun. The team were so helpful when it came to figuring out what to do at the weekends, and they told us where to find all the best restaurants and bars.
Living with other healthcare professionals, like medical and nursing students, from all over the world was great. We learnt so much from each other, and the interaction allowed me to get an idea of what the experience was like for other healthcare professionals. It also allowed me to get to know people that I would have never otherwise met.
Although I expected this placement to be different as it was in a developing country, I was still surprised to see what I saw on my first day of placement. One of the things that surprised me the most was the number of babies and children with severe burns. Many of them had experienced untreated epileptic seizures and fallen into the fire pits in their homes. One baby—about 6 months old—had fallen into a pot of boiling porridge.
Treatments were very different from what I had seen in the UK. Multiple patients were treated in the same side room, which dramatically increased the risk of infection.
That said, I was really impressed with the attitude of local staff—I didn’t expect everyone to be so happy. They were so good at making do with what little they had.
There was a significant difference between the injuries and illnesses that are commonly seen in Zambia when compared to the UK. This included treating a man whose leg had been amputated due to a hippo bite which I would have never seen at home!
I also observed that the hospital didn’t have paramedics. It only had ambulance drivers who had no paramedic training, which was another surprise.
At the weekends we went travelling and explored Zambia.
We looked on TripAdvisor before going out to Zambia, so knew roughly what we wanted to do. We also spoke with the Work the World team and staff in the hospital about what they recommend. We ended up travelling to Victoria Falls, Livingstone, going on safari and visiting an elephant orphanage.
The one piece of advice I can give to anyone considering an overseas placement is to just go for it! Embrace the whole experience and take every opportunity that you are given both during the placement and out in the country and its culture.