Shaakir Hasan - Medicine in Ghana
I miss Ghana. Unlike most volunteers, I only got to spend 3 short weeks in Kumasi and I regret not signing up for a longer visit. Being a pre-medicine student, I wanted to volunteer in a hospital setting, but also travel and get out of my comfort zone. Since I was finishing my senior year, the summer of 2009 would really be my only chance to make such a trip so I decided to take this chance, regardless of how short the trip would be.
My placement was at the Suntreso Government Hospital, which was a perfect fit. The staff in general is very friendly and extremely helpful and in particular Helena, the volunteer coordinator, was the best boss I’ll ever have. Not only was she able to get me into any department or observe any type of physician, but she would make sure that whatever I did, I was never bored and I was always comfortable. During lunch breaks we got to discuss many issues from medicine to politics to pop-culture. Most of the staff took after the coordinator, as they were also very willing to help and very easy to talk to (as most Ghanaians are). The simple nature of the staff made the experience a lot of fun.
At Suntreso, you can pretty much be in as many departments as you want for however long you want. Personally, I wanted to see as much as possible so I shadowed doctors who specialized in STDs, gynecology, pediatrics, and dentistry. Every doctor I observed would thoroughly inform me about every patient, diagnosis, procedure, and treatment. They also answered all of my questions and even threw in funny anecdotes between seeing patients.
I also got to withdraw blood, prepare blood samples, and analyze them for sickle cell anemia. In the pediatric department I got to weigh babies, register patients, and supply babies with vitamins. I got the opportunity to do so much in so little time! I wish I had been there longer so that I could have spent more time at each department instead of simply being introduced to them all.
As much as I learned from the hospital, the most rewarding part of the medical placement in Ghana was the Medical Outreach. We got to travel to rural/impoverished areas in Kumasi and treat the simple wounds of school children. Although the wounds were very minor (abrasions and ringworms), the children simply had no access to simple medication like Neosporin and anti-fungal cream, so we were actually doing them a pretty big service. Also, the kids just love foreigners and they were very enjoyable company. Although I was tired, hot, sweaty, and smelled like rubbing alcohol, I had no desire to stop working with the kids until every child who needed treatment got some.
The children loved to be around volunteers and treated us like virtual celebrities. Their enthusiasm and bright smiles made the visits to their schools all the more exciting and fun. Don’t be fooled - you don’t go there to play hide and seek with the kids; you actually have to work and work is hard. But it’s worth it. Supplies are limited and conditions are harsh, so the tedious work requires a lot of patience and fortitude. For instance, I remember having to shave the entire ringworm-infested head of a young boy, with nothing more than a single disposable razor. It took a while, but at the end of the day the child was all smiles and the teachers were very grateful.
Overall, I learned a great deal from the medical staff, the volunteers, and the Ghanaian culture in general. I truly regret only having been there for three weeks and I hope others will take their time and absorb everything the medical experience in Ghana has to offer. It was definitely the most fun I’ve had “on the job.”