Volunteer Review: Reuben S., Medicine in Ghana
I am a pre-med student who graduated from University in May 2007. I know the rest of the world has a different system, but in the U.S we have to go to University first before we go to medical school. After graduating, I decided to take a year off before going to medical school. I wanted to do something that would really solidify my motives for entering the field of medicine. My desire to become a doctor originated from a film about missionary doctors in Africa and so, naturally, I decided to take that and make it a reality.
I picked Ghana because of the language compatibility and also because of testimonials I read on the Projects Abroad website. I originally wanted to go for a year, but realistically I needed to come back home for medical school interviews. So that’s how it all began. Now here’s my experience:
I left for Ghana at the end of May, one week after graduation. Once I got there, the humidity and heat hit me in the face, but besides that, nothing really came as a surprise; you go to a country in Africa kind of expecting what you’re going to get. I expected the worst, so the cultural shock wasn’t too bad.
My placement was at Central Regional Hospital in Cape Coast and my first day was awesome. I got the tour around the hospital like everyone does. The fun part of my day happened when we got to the surgical theater during my tour. The nurse who was showing me around was introducing me to the doctors and nurses in the various departments, but when we got to the surgical theater, they told me I had to wear scrubs in order to get in. I just happened to have my scrubs with me, so I got changed. When I got inside, I got sucked in with some medical school students and got to watch an appendectomy! The surgeon was a Bulgarian doctor who has been in Ghana for more than 4 years. He explained everything about the procedure and let me come in close to see the perforation of the appendix.
I guess that was a great start to my placement. For the first couple of weeks, I spent my time in the Radiology department with Dr. Saied and Dr. Rockson, who were both extremely willing to teach me. I got to do some x-rays myself, learned to look at ultra-sound images (I can actually point out the different organs and parts of a baby), and watched HSG procedures.
After my time in Radiology, I spent the next month rotating through the Surgical Wards, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Pediatrics, Physical Therapy, and Accidents & Emergency departments. Having an initial interest in surgery, I settled in the surgical ward for the remainder of my time.
Every morning I followed the surgical doctors on ward rounds to the Male Surgical, Female Surgical, and Pediatric wards, examining patients and monitoring their progress. Afterwards, the doctors split into different areas according to their assigned positions, so I either followed them to Accidents & Emergency, Surgical Theater, Consultation Clinic, or ward duty.
Of those, Surgical Theater and ward duty were probably the best for me. In theater I got to see many interesting surgeries while standing almost directly next to the surgeons who explained everything as they went along. I saw hernia repairs, appendectomies, thyroidectomies, amputations, C-sections, uterine fibroid removal, laperotomies, and a bunch more.
The rest of my time in the hospital was spent in this fashion, doing small things here and there, getting to know the doctors, and observing a lot. However, these were not the only things I did as a medical volunteer in Ghana.
About once a week, we went on medical outreaches with Anna, a nurse from Central Regional Hospital, to villages and schools. Anna gave lectures about proper hygiene and sex education and we provided minor health services by treating ringworm, small infections, cuts and wounds, etc. This weekly experience helped me to apply a lot of the things I learned while at the hospital, and one weekend, a bunch of volunteers went to a rural village in Assin Praso to have our own one-day health clinic where almost 200 village people came.
Every week I also got a chance to do something outside of the medical-related area. On Tuesdays we took the kids from New Life Orphanage to Han’s Cottage to swim in the pool and see crocodiles in the nearby lake. They were the sweetest kids ever and they even gave me a tearful goodbye ceremony on my last day with drumming, dancing, poem-reading, and singing.
Needless to say, my experience in Ghana is one that can’t be fully expressed in mere words. It really is one of those “you had to be there” experiences. All I can say is that I gained so much from this trip. Educationally, I learned a tremendous amount about medicine and the practice of human care. It has made a big mark on my medical school application also, as almost all interviewers have spent a majority of the interview time to ask about my experience. However, my gains were not limited to the educational benefits, because I also created so many memories that have changed me in some way through the different people, culture, and ideas that really defined my experience and every time I think back to my time in Ghana, that’s what I remember.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.