Undertaking a Medical Elective in Gondar, Ethiopia

Our elective experience was truly humbling and inspiring and has given us a different perspective on practising Medicine. We spent 6 weeks in Gondar Hospital, in the city of Gondar, North Ethiopia where there was a wide variety of clinical specialties to experience.

Initially we had hoped to divide our time between all the different hospital departments, but we soon discovered that the clinical experience in Ethiopia is nothing like what we are accustomed to in the UK. We therefore chose to concentrate our time in the Internal medicine and Paediatric departments of the hospital. We were exposed to a multitude of new learning opportunities: ward rounds, HIV clinics, the multi-drug resistant towards, the visceral leishmaniasis centre, dermatology clinics, malnutrition wards and paediatric cardiology clinics were among the ones we enjoyed the most. These experiences gave us a good overall understanding and insight into the variety of conditions present within Gondar, and the chance to experience what practising medicine is like in Ethiopia. We were greatly impressed by the doctors’ ability to manage complex medical problems despite limited resources, which we often take for granted.

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Initially the hospital was a very overwhelming place as it was very different from the hospitals we were used to in the UK: it is a busy place both within the departments but also in the hospital grounds as patients’ relatives tend to stay at the hospital since many people travel long distances to reach the hospital.  However, the staff was very accommodating and we instantly felt a part of the team. We soon made friends among the staff members and had the opportunity to carry out an audit on the labeling of chest radiographs within the hospital. We audited several wards under the supervision of the very helpful audit clerk, Ato Addisu and finally presented our audit to the heads of several departments including radiology and the Medical Director!

Other than spending our time in hospital, we learnt a great deal about Ethiopian culture: coffee ceremonies, bayenatu (a selection of vegetarian dishes), the importance of religion and the beauty of the Orthodox religious ceremonies, Tedy Afro (the singer who’s songs are to be heard everywhere, everyday), and Dashen beer (brewed in Gondar) are just a few examples. We managed to visit some beautiful places including the Simien mountains and Lalibela.

We also attempted to learn some Amharic, which was difficult initially but we eventually picked up enough to understand some basic conversations. All the people we met were very eager to teach us a few words of Amharic and this allowed us to make lots of friends within Gondar hospital but also at the hotel and in the town itself. Ethiopian people are very warm and friendly and we instantly found people who were happy to share their language and culture with us and welcome us into their homes or invite us to a coffee ceremony.

Ethiopia is a very beautiful country, rich in culture and packed with so many different learning experiences, both medical and cultural. It is a place we definitely wish to visit again and an experience we would recommend to everyone!!

By Aqeelah Yusuf and Yvelne Ansladi, 5th year Medical Students,
University of Leicester

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