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Medicine in Ghana by Arman Singh

As soon as I graduated from university in Canada, I had big aspirations of going off to medical school and becoming a doctor right away. I had never really thought about the fact that I didn’t have any experience in the medical field and had never experienced what it was like to work in a hospital. So when I found out I wouldn’t be able to enter medical school immediately after graduating, I was unsure of what to do with my upcoming gap year. Thankfully, after taking a little time to gather my thoughts, I realized that this would be a perfect opportunity to see if medicine was the right field for me and at the same time gain some worldly experience.

After doing some research online, I found Projects Abroad and was very impressed by the volunteer stories I read online. After reading all the positive reviews on Ghana – the kind, English-speaking locals, warm weather, and laid back attitude; as well as the overall experience of living in an up-and-coming developing country – I decided to jump in and sign up for one month of the Medicine Project in Cape Coast.

Arriving in Accra, Ghana

Volunteering in Ghana

Upon landing in Accra, I was greeted by the muggy heat and commotion of the airport, but was immediately made comfortable by Nyame, the Projects Abroad staff member. He gave me my Fante name “Kofi”, for being born on Friday. After spending the night in a hostel, I woke up the next morning, met another incoming volunteer from Holland, and began the three hour journey to Cape Coast in a bumpy tro-tro. The ride to Cape Coast was an equal mix of me admiring the lush vegetation of the country and half me being terrified of the aggressive driving of all the Ghanaians on the road!

As soon as I arrived in Cape Coast, I was transferred to the care of another Projects Abroad staff member, Peter, who took me and my fellow volunteer on our induction tour. We were taken to exchange money, get SIM cards for our phones (so we could text and even use data all month – there were WhatsApp messaging groups for volunteers to coordinate events and trips and Projects Abroad employees to ensure everything was running smoothly), and shown how to get around town, and all the cool restaurants and bars to hang out at.

I was amazed at how friendly people were in the streets, with a small smile or nod often being returned by an enthusiastic wave or huge grin, a welcome change from the cool atmosphere of Vancouver. I was made at home by my host mother Tina, who would consistently prepare a great mix of western food and Ghanaian dishes. Over the course of my trip I came to the conclusion that my favorite meals were chicken with jollof rice and red red with fried plantains.

I had arrived on a Friday, so I had to wait until Monday to begin my placement at Cape Coast Teaching Hospital. After meeting the head of the hospital and touring the different wards, I received my placements for my project and was ready to begin working the next day.

Volunteering at Cape Coast Teaching Hospital

My first week was spent in the pediatric ward. On my first day we began with a ward presentation on sickle-cell anemia and fetal hypoglycemia, presented by some of the medical students to their peers, nurses, doctors, and the head of the ward. I was extremely impressed with how well educated and articulated the students and other staff were. Furthermore, as I would learn over and over again, the students and staff were eager to share their vast knowledge of different diseases and their symptoms and treatments with myself and the other volunteers.

My role in pediatrics was more observational, going on ward rounds with the other volunteers and students, but I still learned a great deal. I was able to witness a variety of interesting cases, from babies with malaria and pneumonia, to toddlers having seizures. I also saw diseases which I had never seen in Canada, like Hirsprung’s disease, impetigo, and tuberculosis. I was taught how to interpret x-rays and how the doctors treated the various diseases seen.

With the children in Ghana

My next week was spent in the surgical wards. I began with ward rounds with Dr. Ampong, a young doctor who took me under his wing and taught me a great deal about urology. Under his supervision I was even able to set up IV’s for some patients. The next day he took me to the monthly mortality meeting, where I was able to meet the heads of surgery, Dr. Morna and Dr. Rahman, who went out of their way to approach me and get to know me, as the lone foreigner in their meeting. Dr. Morna was even kind enough to give me some instruction on how to get into the surgical theatre to view surgeries occurring. That week I was extremely lucky to view a few surgeries performed by the steady hands of Dr. Nortey. I would never have had the opportunity to experience this in Canada, and it was an amazing day for me.

My last two weeks were spent in the ever-eventful accident & emergency department, where I believe I learned the most out of any ward. While overwhelming and hectic at first, I grew to love the commotion here, as the staff often depended on us volunteers to help them keep things running smoothly. I often took the vital signs of incoming patients, checking their blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, etc., and then prioritizing them for how fast they needed to be treated. It was nice to be given responsibility after earning the doctors and nurses’ trust by working hard.

Other highlights included helping casting broken limbs with the orthopedic specialist, cleaning dirty wounds with the nurses, and observing the many different cases that came in. I saw a boy having a sickle-cell crisis, a few gruesome victims of car accidents, and even saw a few people pass away in my time at A&E. Overall it was a very meaningful experience, and I am lucky to have been able to learn from the knowledgeable and friendly medical professionals at the hospital.

Working on medical outreaches

Our work wasn’t limited to the hospital though. Every Wednesday we would travel to local villages, where we would perform medical outreaches for the villagers. These days consisted of checking the vital signs of locals, in order to screen them for various diseases such as diabetes and malaria. Seeing the smiling faces of the villagers was a very rewarding experience. We also alternated attending a leprosy camp, where we would clean and redress the patients’ wounds. It was a tough day each time we went but it felt good to help, and the patients were genuinely very thankful for us being there.

Socializing and traveling in Ghana

Volunteers abroad

Lastly, I should mention that my time in Ghana wasn’t just spent working! In fact, the trip was so much more than that. There was a large group of other volunteers in Cape Coast with me, including my two roommates – the majority of which were also in the medical program. We were always hanging out after work, going for dinners or drinks, and exploring together. Almost every weekend a trip was organized to a different part of Ghana, be it national parks, or beach towns for surfing, or the capital city Accra to shop. I met a diverse group of friends from all over the world and still keep in touch with them to this day.

Overall, I am extremely thankful I was able to travel to Ghana with Projects Abroad. I learned a great deal about medicine and was able to confirm that this is in fact the correct career choice for myself. On top of that I am thankful for the friendships I made with the other volunteers, the locals, and my host family and am sad that I had to leave and head back home!

Read more about Medicine in Ghana.

Arman Singh

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