Volunteer Review: Shannon W., Medicine in Ghana
Why I chose the Medicine project
Throughout school, I was an avid traveler – volunteering in China, India, Kenya, and Ecuador over the summer, to build schools and health centers. Since I am now studying Medicine in Canada, I was looking for a self-directed volunteer placement, where I would be able to offer my help in a medical field, while learning a thing or two along the way. Ghana was the perfect fit for me, because I wanted to work in an English speaking country, and I have always loved being immersed in the African culture.
I have a keen interest in pursuing a career in general surgery, when I am done studying. I have worked at a few Canadian hospitals, and even assisted with surgeries; however, when deciding to do a Medicine placement abroad, I was very interested in working in a surgery department in an underdeveloped country, mainly to explore the challenges faced by surgical teams before operations.
Arriving in Ghana
The day after I arrived in Ghana, I was escorted to my host family’s house in Winneba, where I met my roommate and the rest of the family. They immediately gave me big hugs, a heaping plate of delicious food, and really made me feel like I was part of their family.
My roommate and I became fast friends, bonding over our shared struggles of adapting to a new environment, and loving every moment of it. We spent our time at home playing with the children, attempting to speak Twi, trying new foods, and doing our own household chores.
I was truly sad to leave my home away from home, after six weeks which flew by too quickly. My host family will always have a very special place in my heart, and I hope to go back one day to visit them.
Working in Ghana
I truly enjoyed every day spent at my Medicine project in Ghana. The nurses and anesthetists were all very patient with me, and helped me adapt to my new working environment - taking the time to show me exactly how the theater ward was run.
In my first week, I built a strong relationship with all of them, by demonstrating that I was eager to help out in any way – whether it be setting up the trolleys, washing instruments, disinfecting the theater, or folding towels.
It was fascinating to participate in their daily duties, as I had not been exposure to those activities at school. I definitely found a new sense of appreciation for the surgical team, and the responsibilities they have.
At my Medicine project
In my second week, the nurse in charge allowed me to scrub in for the first time, alongside another scrub nurse on a C-section. All of the nurses were excited for me and eagerly helped me glove and gown, snapping countless photos on my phone.
I tried my best to recall everything from the hours of teachings over the last week, about how to set the instruments properly on the trolleys, what all the instruments’ names were, and how to properly drape the patient, just to name a few. Needless to say, it was a very steep learning curve but the whole team was very encouraging and invested their time in teaching me what they could.
I’ll never forget the moment that the baby boy’s head emerged from the incision. And then it hit me that I was lucky enough to not only bear witness, but actually assist in the birth of a human being. I was hooked!
From that day on, I assisted in every case I could, hoping for a busy day when I checked the operating schedule in the morning, and often staying late into the evening after the morning shift nurses had gone home.
I helped out with many other C-sections, myomectomies, herniorrhaphies, circumcisions, bilateral tubal ligations, hysterectomies, open reductions and internal fixations, a salpingectomy, hydrocelectomy, orchidectomy, lipomectomy, and an amputation.
The surgeons could see how much I loved being in the theater, and were always happy to answer my questions and took the time to teach me the steps of each procedure, and about their decision-making process. My only regret at the end of my placement was not being able to stay for another six weeks.
My final thoughts
Due to my Medical experience in Ghana, I have decided that I want to pursue a surgical specialty in the future. There was really nothing more exhilarating than using the dissecting scissors to cut out the hernia sacs, nothing more challenging than learning to stay one step ahead of the surgeon, and nothing more rewarding than a patient saying thank you to me after helping to deliver her baby.
I will forever be grateful to the nurses, anesthetists, surgeons, and the amazing Projects Abroad staff who made this experience an unforgettable and integral part of my medical career.
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.