Hello! We are four medical students currently in our 4th year of studies at Queen’s University, Belfast. This summer, we plan to start our final year of training by travelling to Malawi to carry out our medical elective at the David Gordon Memorial Hospital in Livingstonia.
In Northern Ireland, we have spent time in many different hospital specialties including obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, anaesthetics and surgery. During the six week period we will spend at David Gordon Memorial Hospital, we look forward to developing and putting into practice the skills and knowledge we have gained through our studies.
We are aware that the hospital in Malawi has limited resources with which to address high rates of infant mortality, HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB. We hope that we can be of real use to the hospital. We also realise that we have a lot to learn from the people of Malawi, not only in terms of tropical medicine but in relation to our own values and attitudes.
We are really looking forward to spending our summer serving God in this beautiful country. We would appreciate your prayers as we prepare for our trip.
Anna Ferguson, Nicola Parker, Rebecca McCracken, Katherine McCracken
I spent 5 weeks at David Gordon Memorial Hospital, Livingstonia as a nursing student on my elective placement. I chose this hospital because of the opportunities available there and the connection with PCI missionaries from Northern Ireland – the current Dr. Lyn Dowds and her family and nurse Una Brownlee who has since retired. Organising my elective was easy – the in-country contacts were very helpful and Una kindly agreed to accommodate me whilst I was there.
Everything about rural Malawian healthcare is vastly different from anything I had ever experienced before so I was constantly experiencing new things and learning all the time. The opportunity was there to work in all 4 wards (male, female, paediatric and maternity).
I also spent a lot of time in the operating theatre, witnessing many C-section deliveries and a variety of other minor and emergency operations that I wouldn’t get the opportunity to see in the UK.
I was given a Malawian nurse mentor who was great and keen to teach me all that he knew. Dr Dowds was also keen to teach and I learned a lot just from watching her work.
There was also the opportunity to assist in community antenatal clinics and go with the Doctor on their bi-monthly trip to the 4 lake side health centres connected to DGMH and only accessible by boat. It was amazing to watch the health care staff work (well!) with such basic equipment and drugs and humbling to see how difficult it is for people in these communities to access healthcare when necessary.
Outwith the hospital it is possible to get involved in the local community. The charity shop in Livingstonia fundraises for the hospital and the staff are always happy to have help. I spent many Saturdays and afternoons playing with local children – they just love to see new friends coming to visit. The local church is a great way to meet new people and on Sunday afternoons I had lots of fun with the Girls Brigade group.
I would encourage anyone who is interested in a nursing or medical placement at DGMH to contact Dr Dowds or use Livingstonia Hospital Partnership to help you get in touch with one of the hospital directors. They are very helpful and love to have visitors that are willing to get their hands dirty!
On deciding where to go on elective, I was looking for a hospital that was both in a beautiful location and somewhere that was completely different to a standard hospital attachment at home. I considered many locations including Australia and Canada; however, I did not feel that I would gain as much in terms of learning about a different culture if I stayed within the luxury of a Western World healthcare system. I also hoped to go somewhere that I could use my medical education to serve the Lord.
The David Gordon Memorial Hospital was recommended by a friend as a unique place to complete a medical elective. DGMH is situated in the remote village of Livingstonia, 15km uphill from the lakeshore of Lake Malawi. The hospital is at the centre of this picturesque village originally built by Scottish missionaries.
Everything about Malawian healthcare was vastly different from anything I had ever experienced before. From the care of the patients in terms of personal hygiene and hospital meals being the responsibility of the patient’s family members to the variety of tropical diseases that I saw every day, I was learning all the time.
I had the opportunity to assist in all 4 wards (male, female, paediatric and maternity). I also spent a lot of time in the operating theatre, witnessing many caesarean sections and a variety of other minor and emergency operations that I wouldn’t get the opportunity to see in the UK. Infectious tropical disease such as malaria, TB, bilharzia and typhoid were frequently reasons for patients to attend the hospital. On many occasions patients would present with advanced stage disease, not by choice, but because they couldn’t afford the cost of transport to get to the hospital. During the six week attachment at DGMH, I spent most days shadowing clinical officers on ward rounds in the morning and assisting at outpatients clinics in the afternoon. Two days a week I was scheduled to attend theatre.
Each morning I attended a time of prayer and worship with the hospital staff. It was wonderful to be able to share this time of devotion with the team at the hospital. I had the opportunity to see how a Christian mission hospital truly relied on God every day. Being able to speak about God with patients and other staff and pray openly in the wards is something I have never experienced at home. In Livingstonia, the hospital is an integral part of the local community and church family.
The hospital also provides curative and preventative health services to people living in the surrounding area through the Primary Health Care Department (PHC). PHC are involved in many projects such as orphan care and HIV testing. We got the opportunity to see PHC in action when we accompanied them installing two shallow wells in remote villages that previously had no access to clean water to drink. I have never seen a community so grateful for something that would seem so basic to people at home. It made me realise the importance of sanitation and access to clean water, something that I take very much for granted.
The hospital also supports four rural health centres along Lake Malawi. I, along with my 3 colleagues accompanied the hospital staff to a lakeshore clinic in Tcharo, only accessible by the hospital boat. On other occasions we travelled by road to remote villages to assist with community antenatal clinics. It was humbling to watch the health care staff work with such basic equipment and limited access to drugs.
With money we brought out from the Students Working Overseas Trust at Queen’s University Belfast, the hospital were able to pay for urgently required drugs and medical supplies such as oxygen cylinders. These things seemed so basic to us but were very much appreciated by the hospital.
Overall, I had a wonderful and life changing experience. My experience at DGMH was enriching in terms of my own faith, cultural experiences and medical knowledge. I know I could not have an experience like this if I had completed my medical elective somewhere closer to home. I am now so much more appreciative of our own healthcare system. My elective has opened my eyes to the reality and struggles that many people in the world face to simply stay alive. The everyday challenges faced by the staff not only in terms of lack of resources but in terms of survival in this isolated community truly challenged me at times. It made me think very seriously about how I could justify working as a doctor in the U.K. when there is a desperate need for qualified doctors in so many parts of the world.
I would highly recommend this hospital to others who are planning their elective, especially to those who aren’t afraid of a challenge!