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Review for Child Family Health International, San Francisco, CA, USA

Rating: 4 stars  

In February 2012 (during my fourth year in medical school), I participated in a program through Child Family Health International called “Health Care Challenges in South Africa.” The program was based in the Cape Flats area just east of the southern suburbs of Cape Town, Western Cape province. My clinical site was G.F. Jooste Hospital, which is located in the township of Manenberg. I spent the four-week period in the Casualty (Emergency) Department, where I assessed and treated adult patients (and some adolescent trauma patients). Other rotations available at Jooste include Orthopedics (OR and clinic), Infectious Diseases clinic, HIV Testing and Counseling, and Physiotherapy.

The South African health care system is also faced with major “brain drain” due to physicians and other skilled professionals leaving in droves for places like the UK, Australia, Canada, and the US where salaries (and standards of living) are substantially higher. One of the major issues I encountered at Jooste was the lack of competent nurses. Physicians and medical students, therefore, are involved in nearly every aspect of patient care from phlebotomy, starting IV drips, and imaging to transporting patients and delivering specimens to the lab. While there, I became proficient at reading EKGs, starting IVs, and performing LPs. I even learned how to diagnose disseminated TB with a bedside ultrasound (obviously a skill more useful in SA than in the US). I felt more engaged with my patients there than I ever have during medical school, simply because I was involved with every aspect of their care. I also honed my clinical exam skills, as clinicians there must rely more on clinical assessment, given the limited resources available for imaging and specialized testing.

I would recommend this rotation to anyone who wants to experience first-hand how a health care system with limited resources (both monetary and personnel) manages to provide quality healthcare to a large proportion of the population, even in the setting of a major infectious disease burden.

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

The Health Care Challenges in South Africa program

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What one change could this group make that would improve your volunteer experience?

This program would be greatly improved if there were more clinical rotations/hospitals available to students. With 5 CFHI volunteers in one hospital, we sometimes found that there wasn't enough to do, especially for pre-med students who lack the clinical skills to function independently in the ER.

Did your volunteer experience have an effect on you? (teaching you a new skill, or introducing new friends, etc.)

The volunteer experience was incredible. I met a lot of really smart, fun people. The University of Cape Town medical students are outstanding clinically and are really friendly and helpful. I learned a lot of skills that I wouldn't otherwise learn in my US med school, because students aren't given as many opportunities to do procedures in the US.

How did this volunteer experience make you feel?

By the end of the experience, I felt a very deep connection with South Africa and the people who live there. I hope to return many times throughout my career and hopefully learn new things each time I go.

Role:  Volunteer & Assessed and treated patients at a public secondary health care facility.