The enormity of arranging an elective never really hit me until I actually started trying to do it. After an afternoon spent trawling through MDU electives website, I thought, was it really worth the hassle? Contacting hospital after hospital, trying to arrange a placement and waiting weeks for a positive reply that might never come as had happened to a few of my friends.
I'd heard a bit about elective companies and one of my friends had already booked a place with Work the World (WTW) to Ghana. After looking at their website I realised that they could organise my elective much more efficiently than I ever could on my own. The main selling point was that I would be guaranteed a good placement with someone that would be expecting me when I turned up at the hospital, and that I would have somewhere to sleep and more importantly eat!
We arrived in Ghana late on a Sunday but Prince was still there to meet us with a smile. After a quick midnight meal on the hotels rooftop restaurant we got some much needed sleep before setting off to Takoradi the next day. Despite being 7 in the morning Accra was already bustling and we got our first taste of what Ghana was like.
On arriving at the house we were given a tour of the house and met the other Work the World staff. The Programme Representative then took us on whistle stop but very comprehensive tour of Takoradi. It was lots to take in and I couldn't wait to go back and explore the vibrant Market Circle or relax by the pool at Africa Beach hotel.
After looking at their website I realised that [Work the World] could organise my elective much more efficiently than I ever could on my own.
After an orientation at the hospital we all got stuck into our placements. The other students in the house were invaluable for providing useful tips and experiences from their placements. They also helped to teach us how to haggle properly with the taxi drivers for our ride home.
Here are a few tips that I hope will be useful for those that decide to embark on an adventure to Ghana:
Preparation before going:
Make sure you have enough insect repellent and sun cream. Those are the two main essentials that are pretty much impossible to buy once you're in Ghana (we managed to find insect repellent in Accra but I don't think it had Deet in it). A decent sized rucksack is useful for taking to placement but also for short weekend trips too.
Buy Immodium instants as opposed to the tablets/capsules; they melt on your tongue so work a lot better, as a few of us found out!
A head torch would definitely be useful. I only brought a hand torch and was a bit envious of those who'd been clever enough to bring head torches. This is useful for weekends but also searching around your room at night/reading if some people have gone to bed and you come in late.
Bring your camera lead/memory card reader: This way you can upload photos onto facebook (yes there is an internet connection fast enough) so you have a saved copy of them, that way you don't need to worry about losing all the great photos you will definitely take.
The Bradt guide book was invaluable, there will always be someone in the house with a copy but it was useful to have your own copy to take away on weekends.
It is best to start your placement with no pre judgements. Don't go before hand expecting to have a certain type of experience or to go with a definite goal. You have to remember that you're still a student and you need to build a rapport with the staff before you can dive in and do what you want on the wards. What you get to see and experience is partly about being in the right place at the right time and partly to do with your attitude. It definitely helps if you're proactive, which can be hard when you've got used to the Ghanaian laid back approach about things. You won't necessarily get asked to do things, so if you want to examine a patient/put in a cannula etc ask and more often than not there will be no problem at all.
Two weeks felt about the right length of time to spend in each department. You have time to get to know the staff and used to the feel of the ward but it's not too long that you feel like you're doing the same thing each day.
I was in Ghana for 8 weeks so I decided to do the split placement and the village experience. It was definitely the right decision as the two hospitals were both very unique and I had completely different experiences at each. During my week at the Fasin village I felt like I was truly able to embrace the culture and feel what it is like to live as a Ghanaian. The social aspect of this week was as rewarding as the clinical (which was probably my most enjoyable).
I say if you're here for 4+ weeks definitely do the village experience and if you're there for even longer do the split placement too.
Takoradi and the house:
I really enjoyed my time in the house. Even though I went with a several uni friends we still all made some really good friends in the house. It's great after a day at placement to swap all of your experiences from the day. All of the staff are lovely and try so hard to make sure you're welcome and have everything you need. Ophelia the cook will feel like your surrogate mum by the end!
There's loads to do on a night in Takoradi and nowhere is more than a 2 cedi (£1) short taxi ride away. Most afternoons or evenings the whole house would head down to the bar at the bottom of the hill, the internet cafe or even Ocean Bar that has its own pool tables. The market is a must do and definitely an experience. Although be prepared to hear 'Obruni' (white man) calls from every other person you pass. It's all very good natured though and you find yourself making lots of new friends.
Being in Ghana for such a long time gave me lots of opportunity to go travelling at weekends. I had a nice balance of relaxing beach weekends and busier 'see the country' weekends. Once you're used to Ghanaian transport it's quite easy to get to places, although you do have to learn to be patient sometimes.
I'd say the top 3 places to go see are: -
- Kakum National Park: you can sleep in the Rainforest and the do an early morning canopy walk.
- Kumasi: has a massive market, cultural centre and zoo, it's very different to Takoradi or Accra.
- Beyin: this is a beach resort but also a short trip away is the Nzulezo stilt village - beautiful.
No matter how much you read or talk to other people about their experiences everyone has their own unique experience and the only way to truly learn about Ghana is to go yourself! It is definitely a trip I won't forget.