Shadow a doctor in Africa

March 24, 2021

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

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As a pre-med or pre health student, you can shadow a doctor in Africa to enhance your resume and gain unique global health experience.

While there are many ways you can find hospital shadowing experience, the African continent is a fascinating landscape for students who want to learn more about medicine.

Our global health experience program in Tanzania is designed for students who want to take their portfolios to another level. You will observe many aspects of healthcare – from tribal healers using natural herbs as treatment, to shadowing healthcare professionals at a modern community care facility.

In this article, we will explain how you can shadow a doctor in Africa and why this experience will help you on your journey to becoming a successful doctor, nurse, midwife, or physician assistant.

What to expect shadowing a doctor in Africa

If you choose to shadow a doctor in Africa, there are a few things you should know. Observing a physician at a hospital or clinic in Africa may be a very different experience from what you would see if you were to shadow a doctor locally.

The World Health Organization has found that the African continent “bears 24% of the global burden of disease,” but has access to only 3% of the world’s healthcare workers to handle those cases. Additionally, the continent has less than 1% of the world’s financial resources.

So the first thing to understand is that the entire healthcare system may be structured differently than your own. Things like insurance, the types of facilities, and even the roles of healthcare professionals may be unfamiliar or more fluid than what you’re used to.

On our global health experience program in Tanzania, you will spend a week shadowing doctors and other healthcare professionals at a local health center, which serves several functions for the community. This type of facility handles primary care functions – such as vaccinations, prenatal check-ups, HIV/AIDS medicine distributions, malaria, etc.

However, this center also handles more urgent or severe cases, especially compared to what a clinic in the United States may be responsible for. You may see traumas from vehicle accidents, heart conditions, or even births. If it is appropriate and not an emergency, doctors will refer more serious cases to the general hospitals in Tanzania.

If you choose to shadow a doctor in Africa with us, you will find exceptional doctors and nurses at the healthcare facility who are handling many cases with limited resources. This is an incredible learning opportunity for you, as a premed or pre health student, because you can observe how healthcare professionals handle these challenges.

Medical doctors will serve as your mentor throughout your program – not just when you are observing at the health center. This allows you to ask any questions you may have, even as you observe different healthcare workers at the facility, and different aspects of local healthcare.

The global health experience

While the opportunity to shadow a doctor in Africa will provide some of the same functions as shadowing a doctor at home, one of the greatest benefits to this experience is gaining global health experience.

Understanding global health involves knowledge of public health issues that are specific to the country, as well as how that relates to the rest of the world. Global health focuses on the health of populations and preventative care, rather than focusing solely on the individual.

Given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, we know now more than ever how valuable this perspective is for health care professionals. If you shadow a doctor with us, you will gain insight into global health that few students have early in their careers.

The types of cases you see in Tanzania will differ from what you may see in Europe or the United States. One major example of this are the tropical diseases, like malaria, that are prevalent in Tanzania. Malaria is particularly harmful for children and mothers, but can further exacerbate other medical conditions as well.

It’s important that as a doctor you observe cases like malaria, because even if it is not an issue in your own country you could still encounter patients with malaria if they have recently traveled to malaria endemic countries. This knowledge is valuable to your education no matter which career path you are on.

In addition to observing doctors in a modern healthcare facility, you will also learn from traditional healers of the Maasai and Hehe tribes. These rural communities often live very different lifestyles than Tanzanians in cities like Dar es Salaam. The healers in these tribes serve as important points of care for many members of the tribes, as well as citizens seeking alternative treatment.

You will get to ask questions of the healers through a translator, observe the rich culture, and immerse yourself in the environment. This learning experience helps you understand how culture and environment impact medicine.

To ensure you are getting the most out of your experience, Dr. Isaac Mlay, pediatrician and global health expert, will lead you through a global health seminar. He will help you understand the public health issues that are pervasive in Tanzania, their causes, and their treatments. Dr. Mlay will also help you understand how healthcare in Tanzania and Africa compares to the rest of the world.

Our global health experience program gives you a holistic view of healthcare in Tanzania, as well as the skills to ask questions and assess public health issues in other parts of the world. The skills you learn on this program will give you more than just incredible experiences for your personal statements – they will help you become a stronger healthcare professional.

In addition to the academic learning experience, included in your program fee is a weekend long safari in Ruaha National Park. Ruaha is home to the largest population of elephants in East Africa, but it also has giraffes, lions, zebras, and many more majestic creatures your tour guide will show you.

If you are looking to shadow a doctor in Africa, we hope you consider our global health experience program in Tanzania. You can learn more about the program here.