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An elective placement in Africa...

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Michael Kok Leung Tsang, a third year nursing diploma student, takes us through his journey as a student nurse volunteering overseas.

I had always wanted to go to Africa as a volunteer nurse when I graduated, so when I saw the opportunity to complete my third year nursing elective and volunteer at the same time, I decided to partake in an international placement for two months in Ghana. A volunteer organisation arranged a placement for me at a hospital, accommodation, and helped me plan things such as flights, visas, vaccines, clothing and equipment. It cost me my entire life’s savings but I saw this as a once in a lifetime experience.

I was extremely nervous being in a foreign country, knowing nobody, with new customs and languages I knew little about - the local dialects were Fanti and Twi, but most people did also speak English. My worries were allayed by the friendly volunteer co-ordinator Eric who introduced me to my host family including the mother Millicent and sister Angela. During my time in Cape Coast, I lived with, met and worked with volunteers from all over the world including America, Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, England, Germany, Holland, Japan, Scotland, Switzerland and Wales!

Bernard the medical coordinator and qualified nurse and lecturer started me working at a volunteer run clinic at Ankerful Leprosy Village, which had been established by the Catholic Church and treated hand, foot and leg wounds, though many of the village’s children would also come in with minor wounds and we enjoyed seeing them each day. The clinic itself is handed from volunteer to volunteer and on the last two weeks of my placement I took the opportunity to manage and operate it, organising staffing, purchasing supplies and preparing equipment.

My main placement was at Cape Coast Regional Hospital where the head nurse arranged for me to rotate between accident and emergency, the male surgical and medical wards and paediatrics. I witnessed so many things that I would never have had the opportunity to observe at home - conditions such as tuberculosis and malaria as well as more common reasons for hospitalisation such as road traffic accidents, complications in pregnancy, hernias, leg wounds and retro-viral patients. I exchanged knowledge, methods and ideas and worked very closely with doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, physiotherapists, pharmacists and dieticians, all of whom were very kind, engaging and keen to assist in my education.

I also helped to operate medical outreach programmes at Wakomm and Akatuah villages, where we assessed and treated the entire population, all of whom struggled to gain access to medical care due to its cost or their location.

This placement has enabled me to enhance communication, develop new nursing skills, gain a transcultural awareness, experience a managerial role and most of all, it was extremely rewarding. I thoroughly recommend that any student who has the option to participate in an international elective during their programme, does so.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Well done Michael. I also have worked in Africa (several times). You will find that you have a problem now. Africa gets into your blood. Don't let it be a "once in a lifetime" experience. Enjoy it again...and again...and again... Get married (if you are not already) and take your kids. Let them culture cultures and they will become wise and make you proud. One of mine was born in Africa, for the other four Africa was born in them.

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