It had always been a dream of mine to go to Africa and a medical elective was the perfect opportunity to do so! I was delighted to come across an organisation like Work the World who made my four weeks in Zambia an experience of a lifetime!
I was in obstetrics and gynaecology for the majority of my elective and spent a week in the emergency department. The hospital was a maze to navigate around but with the help of the staff there, who were all so approachable and spoke great English, I soon found my bearings!
The doctors were so knowledgeable and would encourage us to answer questions
Being part of a firm in the O&G department meant that I got to know the doctors and local medical students well during ward rounds, clinics, theatre and even in teaching sessions for the students there. The doctors were so knowledgeable and would encourage us to answer questions, present cases in ward rounds and assist with obstetric palpations. In antenatal clinic, as well as getting to assist with several obstetric palpations, I got to hear the stories of many of the women there; some who were coming for their first antenatal appointment very late on in their pregnancy because they did not have the travel amenities in their rural homeplaces or because they were unaware of being pregnant.
It was evident from ward rounds and clinics that problems like gestational hypertension, eclampsia, anaemia in pregnancy, TB, HIV and malaria were so common in pregnant mothers in Zambia. A majority of the patients were HIV positive and were on anti-retroviral drugs (ARV) and all mothers received malaria prophylaxis as part of their antenatal care, something that is very different to back in the UK.
Spending a couple of days on the labour ward was one of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve had – getting to assist with numerous procedures such as delivering babies, cannulating mothers in active labour, delivering placentas and presenting the mothers with their beautiful babies at the end of it all! It was, however, quite distressing to see the differences here; limited privacy with only thin curtains to separate one labouring mother from the next, no pain relief and visitors/male partners not being allowed into the labour ward! I felt privileged to be with the mothers, offering them a backrub, a hand to squeeze and just being a reassuring presence during the biggest and scariest moments of some of their lives.
The staff were very efficient and had to make do with what they had
Spending a couple of days in theatre was eye-opening. The staff were very efficient and had to make do with what they had – sometimes, there would be a lack of sterilised gowns and equipment and we were expected to bring our own surgical caps, but eventually, the surgical lists would get done and in good time, too!
I was thrilled to watch a myomectomy in which a whopping 52 fibroids were removed from a young 32 year-old-patient. The fibroids were collectively the size of a term baby and must have made a huge difference to the quality of life and fertility of that young patient. On the other hand, an emergency C-section to deliver premature 27 week-old twins was rather upsetting. One of the twins had already died in utero, and the other twin had to be resuscitated. I had never seen a premature baby being delivered and have to be resuscitated, especially in the absence of any paediatricians.
On returning home to the Work the World house after placement, we would have the afternoon to ourselves to do our own thing; whether that was relaxing by the pool (or in the pool as I preferred!), having some quiet time with a cuppa on the balcony, heading to one of the malls nearby, or even having a much-needed nap after a an eventful morning at placement!
Thursday night barbeques were such a highlight to the week! We would have a fantastic barbeque, with all the meats you could ask for with delicious local Zambian side-dishes, chips and freshly prepared veggies! This would be followed up with some fun-spirited Zambian dancing with professional dancers or a games night!
Getting to know all the other students in the house was one of the best things that happened to me on this trip – we became almost like family. A group of us chose to do some amazing things together. My weekend highlight was our trip to Livingstone where we went on a sunset cruise, did whitewater rafting, a safari in Botswana, bungee jumped (111m), swung and ziplined over the Zambezi river and sat on the edge of Victoria Falls. It was one of the best weekends of my life, with some of the best people ever!
A week doing Work the World’s Village Healthcare Experience, spent in a rural village with the lovely host family, was definitely a treat. The days were spent at the village’s local hospital which was surprisingly better equipped and staffed than the hospital in Lusaka. I spent time in obstetrics, paediatrics, a cervical smear clinic (where I was able to assist with some of the smears) and got to assist with running a rural morning clinic, too.
In the afternoons, we enjoyed being able to roam around the village, do some basket weaving and get our hips moving with some traditional dancing! It was, overall, a cherry on top to an amazing four weeks in beautiful Zambia. I took with me memories, friendships and experiences that will last forever!