The details are hazy now, 6 years later, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the rush of delivering my first baby.
I had just finished my third year of nursing school in Canada (at Queen’s University) and my two close friends and I had decided to elevate our practice and expand our perspective by travelling to Ghana for three months. It was an adventure and a learning opportunity that we couldn’t pass up. Our travels allowed us to participate in new experiences in our field that no doubt influenced my decision to continue from nursing into medicine.
We travelled with Work The World, an organization that arranges healthcare internships in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. They allowed me to focus on what mattered, while providing support with travel, accommodations, and arranging the placements and rotations I would be involved in.
I spent most of my time living and serving in Takoradi, a city of approximately 500,000 people. Here, I worked on the pediatrics ward, the labour and delivery unit, and the neonatal intensive care unit. I also spent a week in Akwidaa, a small town and finishing village where I lived with a local family and worked in the town’s health centre that was run by two nurses.
While the specifics of my time are hazier than I would like, I remember the feeling of trying to navigate a new city, a new country, a new workplace with new colleagues, new cultural norms and values - while also trying to learn skills that would make me a better healthcare provider.
This was challenging as the resource limitations were even more startling than I expected. I was pushed and in ways that were so much deeper than their practical limitations: lives lost because of minimal resuscitation equipment or minimal facilities to provide the care that the sickest people needed. It was very difficult.
I was forced to reflect intensely on my role as a healthcare provider, a learner, an outsider, a young adult. More importantly, the societal norms and value systems that had been ingrained in me deeply for the first two decades of my life in North America were being flipped upside down before my eyes; wrestling with and reconciling this was perhaps the most challenging moments of them all.
Through everything I heard and saw and thought, the ups and downs, I can say confidently that the good people of Ghana helped more than I helped them.
Indeed, I remember my time in Africa fondly - as one where I created new and strengthened old friendships, where I embarked on adventure, and most importantly that was formative in my personal and professional life.
Laura Walmsley is a resident in McMaster University's Rural Family Medicine program, Grimsby (West Lincoln Memorial Hospital) in Southern Ontario, where she lives with her husband and furbaby, Zoe. She is a graduate of McMaster medicine and Queen's nursing. She taught first year nursing and worked as an RN at Kingston General Hospital before entering med school.