Many students are now opting to do their physiotherapy electives in developing countries, largely due to the unique nature of the working conditions that prevail in these states. Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania are some of the favorite countries for such an elective.
How different are the electives while compared to those in developed countries?
Every single aspect is different, with a few similarities.
Of course you will have time to enjoy a different climate. For instance, a student who arrives from Europe is accustomed to four seasons in a year. If such a student was to do a physiotherapy elective in an East African country, chances are that he or she will enjoy the warm temperate climate, for the close proximity of the country to the equator knocks off the concept of seasons. While you are not at work you can enjoy a cool breeze blowing across the shore as you have a good time basking on the beach.
Africans are known for their hospitality. They treat visitors with untold kindness. They welcome people into their homes and help them to settle in elective areas with relative ease. You are likely to experience this hospitality as you undertake the physiotherapy elective. As you go about the elective, you are constantly in touch with the natives. Even when you are not at work, you shall in one way or another associate with them. It is a good opportunity to learn their culture. You will be at home, though you may be miles from your real home.
How about work and work conditions?
This is probably the greatest challenge. You have to be mentally and psychologically prepared, for the tasks ahead are nowhere near what you may be used to at home. The workload is immense, for the patients who require physiotherapy are rather many. These are largely attributed to burns involving joint areas with the subsequent development of contractures. The other patients who you will be working on are the immobilized patients in the wards and those who have some debilitating illnesses such as strokes and cerebral palsy. As such, you must be ready to work. This eventually translates to acquisition of immense practical skills which will come in handy when need arises.
The equipment which will be at your disposal is nowhere close to the ones you are used to back at home. To successfully use them requires some creativity and imagination. Your skills will be thoroughly tested and your patience put to test. Those who persist have their skills fine tuned and can work anywhere in the world.
Some cases you encounter are rare cases that you would not have seen if you stuck in your country. Leprosy is a rare disease nowadays. There have been numerous campaigns to eradicate polio in various countries in Africa, but even then, you might come across a few cases. You might encounter these rare illnesses as you go about your chores.
Specialization in physiotherapy is not a common thing in Africa. During your elective term you are likely to be doing general physiotherapy, and where you are stationed is highly dependent on where the patients are. You might be positioned in a physiotherapy clinic where you will be working on those patients who can manage to get there. More often than not, you will be dealing with inpatients suffering from strokes. The beauty about it is that you will see the fruits of your labor. After a couple of sessions, most of the patients will improve, which will give you a sense of satisfaction.
Is it worth?
Generally speaking, those who have undertaken a physiotherapy elective in African countries say that they had a good experience and that it is worth every cent. I have no reason whatsoever to dispute these assertions.
The article has been writen by Elias, a Kenyan doctor with over 15 years of experience in healthcare. Elias has been writing regularly for Work the World, an organisation offering healthcare elective placements in developing countries for student doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists and more.