Winners of the 2013 BIR/Philips Student Bursary award, Faye Morrissey and Saima Dalvi, share their eye-opening experience in the radiology department of a hospital in Tanzania.
In the third year of our Diagnostic Radiography degree at the University of Derby we had the opportunity to undertake a 3-week elective placement. We decided to travel to Arusha in Tanzania to work in the radiology department of a regional government hospital. This motivated us through a challenging year as we had something to look forward to at the start of our final year of university. We chose this elective as we felt it was important to experience healthcare delivery in a developing country. We were delighted and very grateful when we won the BIR/Philips Student Bursary, which helped us make the experience possible. Having organised this placement through a company called Work the World we flew to Africa at the start of September 2014 and could never have imagined the challenges that were to lie ahead.
The placement itself was an incredible eye opener. Practice in Tanzania is so vastly different to the UK. We were challenged both mentally and emotionally each day. Our radiography skills were pushed to the limit as we were expected to provide quality diagnostic images with technology we had never even experienced before. We strongly believe that going back to basics in this way has made us better radiographers and changed our perspective of what it means to be a professional in the healthcare setting.
Upon arrival in the imaging department we were shocked to discover that the hospital had run out of X-ray film. The department had already been waiting a week and a half for a delivery of new film and the staff were still unsure of its exact arrival date. To us this was beyond imaginable as we could not have even dreamt that this issue could arise in healthcare! For 2 weeks patients were denied imaging. Staff were forced to send patients to private hospitals where examinations cost six times as much. The large majority of patients we encountered had struggled to afford an X-ray at the government hospital we visited therefore the chances of them accessing private healthcare were extremely slim.
After our first day in the hospital, we quickly realised that most patients and staff back home (ourselves included) fail to appreciate the harsh realities of global healthcare delivery. Many people argue that the NHS is “failing”, the truth is we are now extremely thankful for the luxuries we have. We feel as though our elective has changed our view of the world. Being surrounded by extreme poverty and the difficulties it brings, we now truly appreciate what it means to live in a country with government-funded healthcare and education.
Aside from the hospital placement, our experience in Tanzania as a country was unforgettable. We were fortunate enough to experience African culture through activities in our free time. We went canoeing, experienced an African painting class, shopped in local markets, visited a cultural heritage museum and even went on a safari to the Serengeti! One weekend, we hiked to a waterfall through the villages. The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful and allowed an insight into the lifestyle and culture of the local people.
We spent time visiting local orphanages and a school. Watching, playing with and talking to these children was incredibly inspiring. Although they have so little, their outlook on life remains positive and their ambition to fulfil their dreams was infectious. Visiting St Jude’s school helped us to understand and appreciate the everyday lives of the patients we encountered and the struggles they face in order to survive.
At times we found radiography in Tanzania to be morally incorrect, however, we quickly realised that trying to change practice would have been both inappropriate and unachievable. Overall the experience provided an enormous appreciation for the radiography training we have received in the UK as we learnt to accept that practice in Tanzania will always be incomparable to radiography here at home.