I chose to travel to Zambia for my elective placement because I have always wanted to go to Africa and Zambia seemed like the best fit after reading reviews on the Work the World website and scrolling through their Instagram page.
The hospital in Lusaka where I was placed was definitely an experience. My first impression was actually how big it was as there are five different hospitals in one. There were many local student nurses and medics on placement too so I didn’t feel alone! They were so kind and showed me around my wards and gave me a rundown of how things work. The ward nurses and doctors were lovely too and welcomed my input.
I thought that the hospital was overcrowded with patients and families visiting their unwell relatives and later found that some people travel for hours to receive treatment. It makes me think about how lucky we are in the UK to have a choice of hospitals where we can seek treatment for free.
I saw both intrathecal chemotherapy and bone marrow aspiration procedures!
I became increasingly confident in taking manual blood pressure (simply because they didn’t have the automatic machine) and listening to patients’ air entry which you can imagine was super difficult on a busy and overcrowded ward! I saw both intrathecal chemotherapy and bone marrow aspiration procedures! I found it very different that anaesthesia was given in the theatre room as there was no anaesthetic room and the parents of the patient would not be present for this. The paediatrician performing the procedures was so good and explained everything to me and answered all of the medical questions I had - I learnt so much from her!
While placed in paediatrics I came across a lot of cases of neonatal sepsis which most did not survive due to the lack of resources and the influx of patients that needed treatment. Some of the most memorable cases I saw were burns victims due to hot water spillage during this time of year (May-October) which is Zambia’s dry/winter season. Their burns were partial to full thickness and were treated with adrenaline-soaked gauze after debridement and finally bandaged up. I assisted with cleaning the wounds and bandaging the children after treatment. I enjoyed getting to know the families of the patients and exchanging stories of our different backgrounds even though I used very broken Nyanja!
I found that one of the biggest differences between hospitals in the UK and the hospital in Lusaka was the resus trolleys. While hospitals in the UK have everything you need in an emergency situation on the trolley, in Zambia everything was in different places and very difficult to find. Suction machines and oxygen cylinders were bulky and extremely heavy. Also, things are done at a much slower pace than what I’m used to in the UK which I found frustrating and quite a challenge but I learned to accept it as this is just the way things are done.
After placement in the afternoons, I would spend my time chilling by the pool and handwashing my clothes, and in the evenings we’d play card games (mainly UNO) and get to know everyone. It’s so amazing to be able to sit down with people from all over the world and hear their stories.
The weekends were spent exploring Zambia starting with Kafue National Park. On this weekend, we did a sunset and sunrise safari and we were able to spot a leopard among many other animals (dream made)! I also went to Livingstone on another weekend, visited the markets and bought souvenirs to take home to my family and friends. The next morning, I woke up at 6am to see the breathtaking Victoria Falls at sunrise and got to see it on both the Zambia and Zimbabwe side - a truly unforgettable experience and such an amazing couple of days!
Zambia has so many sights to offer so I’d definitely recommend planning your weekends wisely so you get to see everything you want. BBQ nights at the house were a definite highlight; such great food and the dancing and games were so much fun!
If you are able to travel abroad, do it without hesitation! Although I travelled alone for my elective placement, I came back with lifelong friends which I’ll always be grateful for!
Zambia is such a great destination with loads to do and the team come to be your second family. You’ll be well taken care of and come back with heaps of beautiful memories and stories to tell!