Medicine & Healthcare in Ghana by Geneviève Digby
How my volunteer experience in Ghana helped me become the Doctor I am today
In 2006, I was a keen undergraduate student studying Human Biology with aspirations of going to medical school. I was looking for a way to make my application to medical school more competitive, but I also wanted to broaden my horizons and experience more from the world. That’s when I came across Projects Abroad and their Medical Placement in Ghana.
I spent 6 weeks learning and volunteering in a hospital in Kumasi, a city in central Ghana in the Ashanti Region. This experience would ultimately shape my medical career and my life moving forward. Since then, I went on to graduate from medical school, complete my residency in Internal Medicine and now, 7 years later I will be starting a fellowship in Respirology. As I return to Africa now to use my medical skills in a clinic in Tanzania, I am reminded of how instrumental my medical placement in Ghana with Projects Abroad was in shaping my career.
Arriving in Ghana
When I went to volunteer in Ghana, I knew very little about medicine. My placement in Kumasi involved volunteering at a small, local hospital and helping out with some of the organised trips to rural villages to help disseminate information about HIV.
At the hospital, I would observe as the doctor saw patients, and if patients spoke English, I would participate. There were surgeries in the operating room almost daily, and I would often assist with those. I will never forget “scrubbing in” on my first C-section – an experience I wouldn’t have again until my fourth year of medical school! Deliveries were very common and I witnessed the birth of countless little Ghanaians. Overall, the doctors I worked with were very busy and very versatile, but were also extremely accommodating and sought to involve me as much as possible in their day-to-day work.
I experienced a lot of medicine and helped out where I could – weighing babies, writing prescriptions, or simply providing entertainment to the children. Despite this, the educational experience was so vast that I often felt as though I was getting much more out of the experience educationally than I was able to give back!
Visiting villages to raise awareness of HIV
At least once per week, I had the opportunity with another volunteer to travel to rural villages where the head doctor at the hospital would give educational talks to the villagers about HIV. I would help set up the equipment as required. We frequently got to meet the village chiefs, which was a fascinating experience in itself. But, perhaps the most enjoyable part was how amazed the village children were by seeing a white person, many for the first time. They would surround me and want to see me and touch my skin. My favourite memory from the villages was when I reached out my hand to a child and about a dozen little hands reached out to touch mine. It was a truly moving experience.
When I wasn’t at the hospital, one of the hospital project coordinators would take me on tours of where he worked, or to villages where there were outreach projects, or sometimes I would spend time in an orphanage to visit some of the other volunteers that were working. Everyone was so accommodating and enriched my experience in Ghana in whatever ways possible.
Free time in Ghana
When not working, there were plenty of fun activities to be a part of. I visited Accra, the capital of Ghana for a volunteer gathering, travelled to Cape Coast and did the famous Canopy Walk. Even simply touring Kumasi was an incredible experience.
My time in Ghana taught me so much about medicine but also about fundamental aspects of global health and how they apply in a relatively poor country. The experience also taught me a lot about myself, solidified my goals and aspirations, altered some preconceived notions and broadened my understanding of the world.
I believe that my work with Projects Abroad helped me to become a better doctor and shaped the person that I am today. It has inspired me to learn more about global health and to return to Africa to apply the skills that I have learned. I am grateful for the experience I had and would recommend it to anyone contemplating a career in healthcare!