Medicine & Healthcare in Kenya by James Rivett
I had just finished my exams, achieving the grades I wanted but still had no offers from medical schools to study this year. This meant I had a year out of education, and thus, could pursue aspirations I had always wanted to, like volunteering abroad. I wanted to combine my enjoyment of volunteering and my desire to provide help in a place that could really use it.
I had been made aware of Projects Abroad from school gap year talks and this seemed like the logical choice as they offered what I was really looking for. I knew I wanted to participate in a medical placement and immediately Kenya had stuck out to me as the place I would visit. I booked just 4 weeks in advance and before I knew it; I was sat on the plane waiting to start an incredible two months of new experiences and education.
Arriving in Kenya
After an eight and a half hour flight from the UK I arrived at night; very quickly I made my way through passport control. Upon leaving the airport I met Stan who is a key member of the Projects Abroad Kenya team. I spent my first night in the guest house in Nairobi where I first experienced a traditional Kenyan breakfast and the first time I was introduced to the language Kiswahili; you will definitely pick up a lot of this by the time you leave.
On arrival in Nakuru I was taken on a town induction. The town of Nakuru couldn’t be better laid out. There is a single main street where all facilities can be found such as supermarkets and places where you can meet up with other volunteers to spend time with each other. To start with it can seem very busy and hectic but you will quite quickly adapt to this and it will become very easy to navigate around the town.
The Projects Abroad team in Kenya are also a key part to why everything runs so well there. They are all extremely friendly and will be able to sort out any queries you could possibly have.
I lived with a very kind and caring host family who were very excited for me to be living with them. During my time in Kenya I felt as though I was really part of the family who I was staying with and was integrated directly into their life. My host mother had five children but only two stayed at home as they were still too young to board at school. They were both very funny and took pride in teaching me Kiswahili while I helped them with their science homework.
Staying with a host family is a fantastic way of experiencing a new culture. You learn about their way of life and also experience new cuisine. One of the main foods eaten in Kenya is ugali and you will come to love chipatti.
My Medical Placement
I was placed in a private hospital in Nakuru. The hospital has an outpatient department downstairs while the wards are situated upstairs and has a capacity of about 70 beds. The hospital has two consultants who work there full time and are both excellent at what they do. Other consultants will then come and go when a patient is brought in who is part of their speciality, such as psychiatry. I got to know all of the staff very well, especially the nursing aids and nurses. This enabled me to really become integrated in the hospital. All of the staff are very welcoming and will take time to explain things to you if you have any questions.
The mornings generally consisted of joining ward rounds and then assisting the nursing aids and nurses in preparing the patients for the coming day. This is a good opportunity to speak to some of the patients and get to know them better. I spent some time in the lab and also the pharmacy, which allowed me to learn about different diseases and the different drugs used to treat them. The hospital also has surgical capability and when there was a surgery on us volunteers would always attend. This can range from emergency caesarean sections to the amputation of limbs.
Medical outreaches and free time
Once a week all the medical volunteers would meet up and we would go to some of the poorest communities in Nakuru. We would attend schools and orphanages where we would provide care for the children by cleaning wounds; treating ring worm and also providing health education. The outreaches were always extremely enjoyable but also very eye-opening. They were one of my favourite parts of the placement as I felt as though I was directly helping these children who really needed our time and care.
We worked through the week and were given weekends off. This is when I was able to discover the rest of Kenya and do some travelling. There are many things to enjoy which we were able to organise ourselves once we got used to the way transport links are run. I was able to do a lot more travelling than I thought I would do and it really added to the whole Kenyan experience. I tried to see as much of Kenya as was possible. I was dumbfounded by how amazing Kenya was.
One of the best trips I took was to the Maasai Mara where we saw the wildebeest migrate across the Mara River. You will never forget the wildlife and scenery you see in the Maasai Mara and Hell’s Gate. We also spent a weekend away in Mombassa to experience the world famous white sandy beaches. The travelling enables you to become really good friends with other volunteers and teaches you a lot about yourself in terms of confidence and organisation.
Coming Back Home
It was very sad to leave Kenya as I had met some incredible people and had some fantastic experiences. I was now equipped with the knowledge of another culture and could teach my family and friends about the way of life in Kenya. This was an experience that I will carry with me through the rest of my life along with the important life skills I have now learnt.