April 15, 2014
Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.
Hi guys! My name is Mehreen and I’m going to talk about my experience with Gap Medics. I’ll try and keep it concise, but really, I could talk for hours about my two weeks in Tanzania!
I spent my time with Gap Medics in a city called Iringa, which is about 9 hours journey by bus from the centre of Tanzania, Dar Es Salaam. You might be a little intimidated by the sound of that long journey but it was great fun and gave you the chance to get to know others on the way. For me, it was helpful travelling with two friends from school (especially flying overseas without my parents for the first time!) and it was comforting having a couple of familiar faces. However, I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to go with somebody you know, because it’s so easy to meet and get talking to new people from all over the world. I’ve gained a valuable Canadian friend, Breanna, from the trip – we first bonded over our love of Doctor Who, Sherlock and all things British on the bus journey to Iringa!
In Iringa, we stayed at the Rock House. It was a lovely place to call home for a couple of weeks; the living/eating area was really social but the bedrooms were in separate little “huts” so you could also have your own space if you wanted. It really did feel like a home with a large family! You could pretty much do whatever you wanted to; chill out, play cards, listen to music/plug your iPod in to the speakers, read a book, or even cook something for yourself at the weekend.
As well as relaxing at the house, there were other activities you could be doing in your spare time. We were shown around on the first day so we had a vague idea of where the town centre, post office, hospital etc. were, and we could then choose to go shopping or go to the café with some friends. Club VIP was also a quick taxi ride away for those of us who wanted to party a little! Gangilonga Rock was a ten minute walk up the hill and, although a little improvised climbing was necessary (wear suitable footwear, unlike me, who tried to do this in ballet flats!), the views over Iringa were absolutely breath-taking, especially during sunset. You could also choose to go on the safari over a full weekend! I cannot stress how much I would recommend this to everyone. I literally spent about 8 hours driving around a national park in Africa in a Jeep with 6 other girls and a driver – it does not get more raw and exciting than that! In hindsight though, shouting “Simba!” in an effort to try and attract lions probably wasn’t the best idea…
The hospital placements themselves were really well coordinated. You knew exactly where to go for each rotation and the doctors were really friendly. It was infinitely useful to see some of the things I saw – open surgery, Caesarean sections, women giving birth, HIV-positive patients being treated, and many more. Speaking through experience, I know it’s difficult to try and secure some sort of volunteer work or experience in developed countries such as the UK. You would certainly have to go through a lot of checks and procedures to even enter theatre at age 17, so it’s useful to take the opportunities to see what you can whilst with Gap Medics. You also get to experience first-hand some of the healthcare problems in developing countries like Tanzania such as, HIV, lack of medical resources and lack of sanitation.
None of this would have been anywhere near as good if it wasn’t for the Gap Medics staff. From the minute you book your trip, you’re helped along the process. Someone from head office phoned me up several times so ensure I had all the right things and had my vaccinations sorted. When we arrived at Dar es Salaam airport, we had Jerry, one of the Programme Managers, meet us directly after Customs and take us to the hotel for the night. He was incredibly friendly and helpful from start to finish, and we could talk to him like a brother! Baptista, the Programme Director, and Mdoe, the other Programme Manager, helped coordinate the hospital placements in particular and made sure everything ran like clockwork. The chef, Akiba, was a master of food – so much food, so many carbs, but so good! He could cater for pretty much any diet as well. And last but not least, Sillah, the mother of the house! She would come by on an evening and make sure were all relaxing and safe, and even came out with us one night to the club!
That probably wasn’t very concise of me, but I really could continue to go on about my experience with Gap Medics forever! I hope I’ve managed to put across how amazing my time in Tanzania was, and I’ll just leave you with a couple of small touches that made me happy; An en-suite- bedroom, no creepy-crawlies at the house – something I was a dreading, barbecue once a week (being outside, round an open fire with everyone was really cozy!) Hotel and meal paid for on the day you arrive which was a nice welcome and a small café called the Warthog – so many good milkshakes! It’s the little things in life!