As a fourth year pharmacy student, choosing the right specialty rotation was a big decision. There were numerous opportunities throughout Saskatchewan and Canada, but the chance to broaden my horizons seemed too good to pass up. I just knew that a placement in Ghana would allow me to experience pharmacy practice in a whole new way and give me a better understanding and appreciation of the profession throughout the world.
From the moment I met Ezekiel (our local guide) at the airport, I knew we were in good hands. He, like all of the awesome staff at the Work the World house in Takoradi, did everything he could to make us feel welcome and embrace the Ghanaian culture. Ophelia and Dorcas cooked up delectable meals and accommodated any request we gave them, while Alhassan was a master on the grill for Thursday night BBQs (not to mention, a great DJ too!). Joseph (the programme manager) made sure our placements were going as we expected and took our advice and concerns into consideration at every turn. And I don’t think we’d have survived without the basic Fante we learnt in the weekly lessons.
Sandy beaches? Got it. Historic sites? You bet. Waterfalls? We saw three in one weekend alone. We went on safari, fed monkeys, and even soared above Atibie in the annual paragliding festival!
The programme was designed around four weeks at a regional hospital to participate in hospital practice followed by one week in the rural fishing village of Akwidaa to experience practice in a rural clinic. After the first week, the hospital pharmacists in Ghana went on strike. Joseph was able to reorganise the internship so that my colleagues and I were able to get into a community pharmacy without wasting any time. This allowed us to see the full spectrum of pharmacy practice in Ghana: we worked in the dispensaries, compounded batch medications, and went on ward rounds at Effia-Nkwanta; helped out in a community pharmacy; and were placed in primary care roles in the rural clinic in Akwidaa. This allowed us to do everything from helping with diagnosing to choosing the best treatment regimens to educating patients on how to properly use their medications. And often, this involved patients who spoke little to no English.
By undertaking the Pharmacy Specialty in Ghana, I learnt a lot about the profession in its various forms, as well as a lot about myself. I learnt how to overcome barriers (for example, not speaking the language or using medications I had never encountered before with limited resources available) and how to think critically and act on my feet. It was definitely a rotation unlike any other and I can confidently say I got much more out of my placement than many of my classmates.
But the Ghana placement wasn’t all about the work; weekends were free to do some travelling, and if you don’t mind the crack of dawn on your days off and bus rides across the country, you can see many of the wonderful sights no matter how short your stay is—and there truly is something for every taste!
Sandy beaches? Got it. Historic sites? You bet. Waterfalls? We saw three in one weekend alone. We went on safari, fed monkeys, and even soared above Atibie in the annual paragliding festival! Even in the village, when the work was done, it was time for fun – relaxing on the beach and hiking through old forts and forests.
It was culture shock for the first few days in Akwidaa with no electricity and few English speakers, but the nurses at the clinic were fantastic at translating for us and taking us around to embrace the village lifestyle. We may have been hesitant on arrival to the village but we came out wanting to stay for another week or two!
International specialty placements offer students a wealth of opportunities to develop their practice as well as themselves. Even current practitioners can gain from these placements as you learn to look at the world a little differently and experience something new and soulfully enriching. With Work the World Ghana, it’s not just a placement, it’s a whole life experience!