Stephanie Humphries believes students can enrich their learning experience by undertaking an international placement.
The Adult Nursing student from Telford, Shropshire travelled to Takoradi, Ghana to fulfil a three-week elective hospital placement during her degree with the help of Work the World, who specialise in tailoring overseas nursing opportunities.
Students gain experience of a different healthcare system and develop knowledge of tropical diseases, seeing how social and cultural issues affect clinical practise and come face-to-face with global health issues.
Stephanie funded much of the trip herself, with sponsorship from the Thomas Arnold Fund helping with the rest of the cost.
“I was a nervous wreck flying to Ghana on my own”, Stephanie admitted. “Coming from the UK, I wasn’t quite ready for the heat and humidity. It was hair up, shorts on and all the antiperspirant the airline let me carry!”
She met people from Europe and elsewhere, as well as those closer to home, upon arrival at her accommodation.
“I met my housemates and the nerves vanished. Everyone had a friendly face and we got to know each other. People came from a range of different countries, including Australia, Belgium, Holland, America and some from the UK.”
Stephanie quickly noticed differences in terms of hospital facilities – and came to appreciate the all-inclusive approach of the NHS, in contrast to the often-heart-breaking scenes of being forced to refuse healthcare.
“Patients had to pay for everything and were turned away if they could not afford treatment. Seeing small children sent home because their parents could not afford the required medication hit me hard. Everything had to be paid for. Gauze, swabs, morphine, antibiotics. Everything.”
Stephanie gained direct patient care experience, being encouraged to be involved in the day-to-day running of operations such as triaging patients in A&E, reviewing patient histories and compiling nursing notes. A different approach to treatment and communication was also noted.
“My hospital was strict on sterilizing equipment but lacked patient-centred care and patient checks. Doctors didn’t communicate with or reassure patients much. It was surprising, but I remained respectful of local culture and kept an open mind.”
There was a greater variety of illnesses and injuries than she was used to, with road traffic accidents a common cause. Some unorthodox methods of treatment were also witnessed.
“I saw conditions like malaria and gangrene, and severe dehydration and malnutrition. I also saw cases of sepsis, pneumothorax and ascites leading to makeshift abdominal drains inserted with cannulas. When I queried this method, staff told me, ‘Welcome to Ghana!’ This took me by surprise, but I understood that the lack of resources meant they had to be creative.
“It was also interesting to see the wound care nurses provided. They adopted a one-cotton-swab-will-clean-all technique, and cross contamination wasn’t a concern.”
Weekends off at least meant Stephanie could explore further afield, with the beach resort of Cape Coast among her destinations.
“We hiked, spending a night in a treehouse in the forest. Hearing toads and cockroaches kept us awake but was a cool experience. We followed that with a canopy walk and saw monkeys, then spent the day exploring markets and meeting locals. People were friendly and interested in knowing our names and where we were from, and speaking to them, I learnt that my ‘Ghana-name’ was Afun.
“Everywhere was bright, beautiful and interesting and you could have spent hours talking to people who’ve experienced a different path in life. I shall remember the memories for as long as I live.
“The experience made me appreciate the little things, but also gave me perspective on how amazing the National Health Service is. We are so, so lucky to have free access to healthcare.”