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Louise Ratcliffe - Medicine in Ghana

Cape Coast hospital

Being a 4th year medic means I only had one month for a summer vacation, so I decided to do something useful with my time. I wanted to go somewhere hot, but also make a difference and get an experience of life in a country very different to Scotland. I searched the Internet for companies offering places for volunteers on medical projects and found Projects Abroad. Searching through the countries on offer I found Ghana and decided to apply.

So two months later I found myself stepping off the plane in Accra airport, completely alone and slightly scared! My first thoughts were hoping that the intense heat I was feeling was just coming from the plane, and that it would go away. But it didn’t! I managed to retrieve my bag and find my way through security to be met by a very helpful and friendly member of the Projects Abroad staff. They took me to the office where I spent the evening with other new volunteers and attempted to get some sleep – easier said than done when there was no fan because the electricity was not working! The next morning I travelled to Cape Coast and spent the rest of the day being shown round the town and meeting my host family and the other volunteers.

Medical supplies

The following day I was up early to go to Central Regional hospital where I was to spend my time volunteering. I was given a tour of the hospital and couldn’t get over how friendly everyone was. I had requested to spend my 4 weeks in the A&E department, shadowing doctors and finding out how a hospital works in a developing country. I also hoped to gain experience of many diseases not commonly seen in the UK.

My time spent volunteering was divided between the hospital and doing outreach projects twice a week. In the hospital I was able to help the doctors examine patients and helped with basic clinical skills, such as blood pressure taking. I couldn’t get over how severe people leave their lumps and bumps until they come to hospital. Everything was so much more extreme and I actually felt an enlarged spleen (something I had never felt in my 3 years of medical school!).

Ghanaian nurse

The department was quite basic, but there were enough staff to cover all the jobs, which meant I mainly observed and had to push myself in to get involved. I saw everything from severe malaria to liver disease to RTA victims to snake bites to severe heart failure and even a lady whose house fell on her leg! The doctors were fantastic, and it was interesting to learn about medical teaching and practice in Ghana. Surprisingly, there are many things that were very similar with the UK, but also some very dramatic differences.

The rest of my time was spent doing outreach with other volunteers and the staff of the clinic. Godwin, the doctor, was fantastic and really excited to let me help because I was a medical student. We gave health talks, vaccinations and first aid at local schools and weighed babies and performed health checks on mothers in surrounding villages. I found this the most rewarding part of my time in Ghana, and really felt like I had made a difference.

Inside the hospital

As for my free time, I visited a stilt village and Kakum national park. We also went to visit Cape Coast and Elmina slave castles and visited many amazing beaches and resorts. My host family were lovely and welcoming and the house was amazing – my room was on the rooftop with views over the whole of Cape Coast. I met lots of amazing people who were also volunteering, and I hope we will stay friends for a long time. There were people from all over the world – America, France, Germany, Australia… it was great to get an insight into their lives and share the experiences with them. The Projects Abroad staff were also extremely organized and helpful, and there were weekly quizzes at the office for catching up with the other volunteers and meeting new ones.

In conclusion I thoroughly enjoyed my month spent in Cape Coast and wish I could have been there for longer. Being back at University makes me realize what a fantastic experience I had, one that I will remember for the rest of my life. It has also made me appreciate the health care system back in the UK more and I realize how fortunate we are to live here.

Louise Ratcliffe

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