Sarah Schaet - Medicine & Healthcare in Tanzania
While attending university, I wanted to make the most of my long summer breaks and do something meaningful. I had done a project on Tanzania at a young age and always wanted to travel there.
After researching online I found Projects Abroad and was thrilled to find out they had medical internships in Tanzania. Being on a pre-medicine track at school, I knew I wanted to spend my summer gaining experience in the medical world. Projects Abroad led me to one of the greatest summers of my life so far.
Arriving in Tanzania
After fundraising for several months, preparing my body with vaccines and enduring a long flight I arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I chose to work in Dar because of the opportunity to volunteer at a government teaching hospital, Mwanayamala Hospital. I found the city very busy and overflowing with people.
The Projects Abroad office staff member who picked me up in the middle of the night from the airport showed me my first real impression of Tanzanians: welcoming. My host family welcomed me in with open arms and treated me like an honoured guest. I would come to enjoy walking home from work to spend the afternoon playing games with my host sisters and feeling like they were my own relatives. Though I did experience a good bit of culture shock, my host family and the staff of Projects Abroad helped me feel at home quickly and comfortably.
My Medical Placement
I knew I wanted to spend the summer making a lasting impact in Tanzania and learning as much as possible about medicine. Through my internship, I learnt more in the two months I was there than in the three years I have spent at university. Having the long placement was definitely the key in this. I was placed to rotate in each section of the hospital for two weeks at a time. However, if I felt uncomfortable or unable to learn in a certain ward, I was free to change my schedule with the supervisor.
I started my rotation in the Major Theatre, Surgery. I had hoped to go through my placement with more understanding of what specialty I would like to choose as a doctor and my time in the Major Theatre revealed my interest in becoming a surgeon. While in this ward I was able to assist in many procedures after countless hours of watching surgeries. The important thing about this was I was very respectful of the surgeons and their knowledge, asking many questions and following them where ever they went.
Over time, they began to ask me to assist them in small things and trusted me to aid them in their work. The other wards were much like this, I asked a lot of questions and followed a doctor around as they led me through their work.
The hospital and the time I spent there was a life changing experience and taught me a great amount of patience. There were times when I felt useless and wasted and there were other times I felt like I had so much going on at one time I didn’t have enough arms to do it all. But this is the truth about medicine and the reality of working in a hospital setting.
My lasting impression of Tanzania had a lot to do with who I got to share it with. I didn’t know a single person going at the same time as me but through the planned social outings and working with the other volunteers I became best friends with many people.
I was shocked at how many different countries were represented by the various volunteers. During my time there were a few girls from Norway and Sweden, a couple from France, a few British volunteers, and a lot of Danish people. I was lucky that I also had an American roommate who worked at the hospital with me. We walked to work together and shared our down time with our host family. It was nice to have someone who understood my cultural background there with me.
The weekly socials were some of my favourite nights. We played volleyball and walked around the markets. On the weekend you could find almost all the volunteers lounging at a beach resort together.
Besides socials we had other planned activities for all of the volunteers called work days. We got to go on two work days, one was a building day where we helped repaint an orphanage and another was a medical day where we got to help do physicals on children at an orphanage.
I was very fortunate to be able to go on a four day safari with seven other volunteers while in Tanzania. While I did not have the funds to go to the Serengeti, there are tons of other smaller national parks with almost all of the same animals at lower prices.
We found a company through one of the past volunteers and the cost was very reasonable. Our guide led us a few hours out of Dar to Mikumi National Park. The first day we went on a game drive and saw zebras, giraffes, elephants, impala, wildebeest, and hippos. The best was when we were about five feet from a group of elephants.
This experience was the cherry on top to my experience and watching the sun set over the plains of Africa will be my lasting memory of the summer that changed my life forever.