Tales from our Alumni: Finding your vocationOctober 26, 2015
Gap Medics alumna Charlie had a life-changing experience on our Tanzania programme. The placement brought focus to her ambition to work in healthcare; after a few days in the hospital, she knew she wanted to specialise in midwifery. She left Tanzania feeling confident and ambitious – ready to take the first steps towards a medical career.
“One thing was permanent: my desire to help others.”
In the middle of my first year at sixth from, I found myself asking ‘why?’ Why was I working so hard? What was I fighting for? All my life I’d had a passion for biology, but as life became more difficult my interests changed. One thing was permanent: my desire to help others. I knew I wanted to work in healthcare but chose my GCSEs and A Level subjects without a clear university course in mind. During these tough academic years, I was under a lot of pressure to perform and my core beliefs and passions got lost along the way. I was no longer studying biology because I wanted to know more; I was learning a syllabus that taught me how to pass an exam.
“I needed a future to work towards, but this would only come with experience in the healthcare field.”
As I started Sixth Form I realised that it was now my choice to attend education; this is when I knew my mind-set had to change. I needed a future to work towards and strive for, but this would only come with experience in the healthcare field. After contacting local hospitals with no luck, I took matters into my own hands. I started to research organisations that enabled hospital placements and began saving to go abroad for the opportunity.
Having suffered from depression and anxiety this was a huge step, but an experience I was determined to give myself. Through my research I found Gap Medics; they specialised in medical placements and I was convinced they were the company for me. I booked a two-week trip to Tanzania which would start just days after my final AS Level exam.
Gap Medics staff were extremely helpful and reassuring in preparing me for the experiences ahead. Pushing my anxieties aside, I embarked upon my journey. Thinking now about that day I recognise that the strength and motivation I had boarding the plane despite my fears came from my ambition to experience Tanzania – I wanted the trip to instil that same feeling in returning to UK, and give me a purpose and goals for life after education.
In Tanzania, the incredible Gap Medics staff and their friendly welcome made me feel comfortable instantly. Monday came and after a gorgeous breakfast cooked by our chef Diana we walked 20 minutes to the hospital. I still cannot believe that moments after changing into my scrubs, counting gloves into my pockets and introducing myself to my mentor, I was in a humid theatre room kitted head to toe in a hat, mask and boots.
“I had found my vocation!”
My first week continued to be as surreal as the initial hour. After the first few days, I knew the maternity wards were where I wanted to spend the rest of my placement – I had found my vocation! The hospital staff were so keen to teach me and gave me the opportunity to witness every procedure, I really felt I had become part of the team.
I was instantly immersed into a culture completely different to my own and adjusting to the new mentality was tough. I learned that in Tanzania, women’s access to healthcare is heavily dependent on income and location. Although service in the hospital was free, treatment and equipment was scarce.
In my time on the wards and in surgery I witnessed enormous agony but experienced great honour that I could give my time to comfort women who would otherwise go without support.
“It truly was an unforgettable experience.”
At the weekend, I had planned a safari with a few of my housemates. We had a memorable time, but the patients I had seen were never far from my mind. I took this time to reflect on what I had seen and the small contribution I’d made. On return to the hospital, I couldn’t help but dream bigger than my donation of time, and see the difference I could make. I met some incredible people, likeminded friends and wise teachers; it truly was an unforgettable experience. So much so, I’m preparing to do it all over again just six months later!
Charlie is currently fundraising for the hospital in Morogoro where she shadowed, and planning a second trip to Tanzania with Gap Medics this Christmas.
Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing programs offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.