I was due to travel to Ghana in March 2020 and then Covid-19 struck, so I decided to postpone my midwifery placement until July 2021. I was delighted to be able to travel before starting my full-time role as a newly qualified midwife.
There is a large friendly Ghanaian community where I live so I was intrigued about Ghana from the get-go.
Going to Ghana was my first time travelling to an African country, when I arrived I felt like I had landed on another planet. I was tired, hot and overwhelmed but the Work the World team was there to greet me.
Nothing could have prepared me for a midwifery placement in Ghana, as great as the team was in advance of going. When I first arrived at the hospital my initial thought was “oh my goodness, what have I done”.
After my hospital orientation it became apparent, very quickly, that midwifery practice is so very different to what we have in the UK. However, all it took was some time (not a lot), and all of a sudden things started to make sense.
I realised I was never going to change midwifery in Ghana, nor did I want to — I wanted to learn about how midwifery is practised in a developing country.
I started to learn from the people I was on the wards with, why they had to do certain things, why their practices were so different. It all started to click into place, and actually when you break it down their midwifery care really is really similar to the UK.
The midwives and medical teams are there to deliver babies as quickly as they can in the safest way possible. There are many reasons why their practice is so different; culture, high patient volumes, a lack of staff and a definite lack of resources.
Patient-centered care is not really a practice here. For example, culturally it is acceptable for midwives to shout and at times strike women who are in labour. Their aim is to get the patients (and babies) in and out as quickly and safely as they can and, for them, this was a part of that process.
As hard as it was to see, I had to remove my thought process of constantly comparing it to the way things were done back home and see it through their eyes. Ultimately their outcome was the same — deliver a healthy baby and ensure the labouring woman is alive and healthy at the end of it.
In my first week on placement, my supervisor had said ‘we’d love you to do a short presentation on any midwifery topic of your choice at the end of your two weeks’. Initially, I was hesitant and so nervous.
Back home, I had done some research and a presentation as part of my degree about PTSD in relation to midwifery. It is also something I am really passionate about so I thought I would go for it.
I was aware however of the stigma related to mental health issues in Ghana and I didn’t want the staff team to think ‘what is she talking about’, or ‘we clearly don’t have the resources here to be able to look after patients the way they do in the UK’. I could not have been more wrong — what happened was incredible.
They were so interested in everything I talked about and were really engaged. They were interested in knowing what techniques we use back home, it was unbelievable.
I could not speak more highly of the hospital team if I tried. Their levels of English were great, the patients less so but that was to be expected. To be honest, you can look after patients without speaking, using non-verbal communication. The language barrier did not get in the way at all.
The hospital knew in advance of me arriving that I had finished university this year, so essentially I am qualified. Once they could see my capabilities they immediately got me more involved. Under their supervision they allowed me to assist with deliveries. We got on so well. I just needed a few days to find our feet on how we work together and build a good working relationship.
I had no idea that by spending two weeks in a Ghanaian hospital how much my confidence would grow in relation to midwifery, and me as a person too. I honestly now feel like I could do anything.
We take so much for granted in everyday life, not to mention our incredible NHS. So many countries around the world have nothing like it, Ghana included. We have access to equipment, staff, medicines that save lives daily, and we’re all guilty of taking this for granted. We are so incredibly lucky and my trip to Ghana made me appreciate this even more.
When you’re passionate about women's care like I am, this is why you do this job. You witness the lack of resources a country like Ghana has to face and it’s frustrating at times, but totally understandable. That said, you can’t take anything away from the care they provide to their patients. They do the very best they can with what they have got, and as a midwife that is very humbling.
Staying at the Work the World house was great and very interesting. There was a mixture of medical, nursing, physiotherapy students. It was so nice to share knowledge and our daily experiences. We all helped each other — the atmosphere was nice and everyone was really friendly.
The whole Work the World team was so nice, every single one of them. The catering team did a great job, the food was lovely and we were never hungry. They work so hard and we were all so grateful.
Before I left Takoradi the Programme Manager sat me down to pass on feedback he had received from the hospital about my time spent there. It was really positive and totally unexpected. It was a lovely way to end my placement.
At the end of my two weeks in Takoradi I decided to tag on an extra week to enjoy some relaxation and reflection on my placement in the capital city of Accra. I stayed in a beach resort and enjoyed the incredible weather. I loved the Ghanain markets. They were so busy, packed full of friendly people and I ended up buying a suitcase full of fabric, and plan to make a lot of things now that I am home. These will remind me of the great time I had in this country.
Travelling after being under lockdown for so long was liberating. Covid-19 is going to be around for quite some time and we just need to get used to it. I wear facemasks for 12-13 hours anyway when I am working so it feels completely normal.
One day I would love to return to Ghana. I would love to take my children there when they are a bit older. It is such a friendly, vibrant country and it stole my heart. I also think it really makes you look at life differently, it makes you appreciate the smaller things in life.
Before returning to Ghana however, my aim is to try and book another midwifery placement with Work the World, to possibly Sri Lanka or Vietnam - I am yet to break that news to my husband yet mind!