My Work Placement Experience in Tanzania

Sarah Donoghue is a final year medical student in UCC (University College Cork) and this summer she completed her four week work placement in Tanzania.  She shares part of her story below.

Sarah Donohue and Sr Kate Constigan_lr.jpgPatient after eye surgery with Sarah Donoghue and Sr Kate Costigan

This summer, 43 UCC medical students travelled to Africa as part of the Surgeon Noonan Society, a student run charity set up to provide medical aid to Africa through fundraising and volunteerism. 

I was one of six students who travelled to Tanzania to complete four weeks work placement.

Our time was split between two clinics run by OLA sisters in Bugisi and Mwamapalala.  We were very well looked after by the OLA sisters, especially by Sister Kathleen Costigan, a sister from Co. Tipperary who has been a missionary for the last twenty-five years. Sr. Kate has a black belt in karate and the three motorbikes which she uses to transport HIV medication into remote areas are parked outside her office.  She is fearless and well loved by the local people and I feel privileged to have gotten to know her. During our time spent in Mwanza, we also met Sister Cassie Hurley, an incredible sister who hails from Midleton.

On our first day, we were given a tour of the hospital. While passing the labour ward, we were ushered in and I was told to quickly scrub in to help deliver a baby. Within five minutes, a very healthy new baby, Sarah, was delivered. This was a great start to our trip! I was struck by the fact that the mother received no pain medication whatsoever, and hopped straight out of the bed immediately after giving birth.

One of the highlights of my time in Tanzania was the morning an ophthalmologist from a nearby city to come to Bugisi to run an eye camp. The camp was funded by money raised by the Surgeon Noonan Society and people travelled from far and wide to be treated.

Eye Camp in Bugisi 2018_lr.jpg
They eye camp set up in Bugisi

The doctor  spent his first day in Bugisi consulting patients. The second day was spent operating, performing mostly cataract surgeries, one of the most common and safest of surgical procedures. A cataract occurs when there is a clouding of the lens in your eye, this affects vision. Once this is removed and replaced, the patient’s vision should be restored. Despite the safety of this procedure, the lack of resources means that many people in Sub-Saharan Africa are left blinded even though this condition is correctable for the most part.

The money raised by Surgeon Noonan paid for cataract surgeries for over forty people, including many children. The next day, we spent the morning removing bandages from people’s eyes. I will remember that morning for the rest of my life as it was purely magical listening to the gasps of joy as people’s sight was restored.

The Surgeon Noonan Society has also financed the building of a surgical theatre which is set to open next year.

In the evenings, Sr. Kate would take us out in the ambulance to visit some of the remote villages. It was an enriching experience to visit leper communities. We would often stop the ambulance to meet the children along the roadside.

Our time in Mwamapalala was very enjoyable. Sister Monica and Sister Cecelia do incredible work and their kindness knows no bounds. We were taken to an outreach clinic in nearby Mondoya where we had the opportunity to interact with patients with the assistance of a translator.

We returned to Bugisi for our final week of placement where we were mentored by Dr. Joe O’ Keefe from Tallow.

A big ‘thank you’ is in order for the people of Youghal for their kind donations and well wishes prior to my trip. They are much appreciated. Thanks also to the staff and students of Pobalscoil na Tríonóide and to everyone who supported the cold, wet, white-coat clad medical students shaking buckets around Munster on rainy Saturdays!

Stuart Hickey and the Youghal Karate Club deserve a special mention for the wonderful donation of karate gi uniforms. Sister Kate holds a black belt in karate and teaches karate in a local hall in Bugisi to both adults and children. Everyone was thrilled with the new suits. We joined them for a karate class one afternoon and their enthusiasm and sheer joy made it one of the highlights of my trip!

I feel very privileged to have spent time in Tanzania. The kindness and generosity of spirit we were shown by the missionary sisters and the locals everywhere we went was very humbling. People were so generous to us even though they had very little themselves. We were embraced as part of the local community. I saw signs and symptoms in advanced, end end-stage diseases which I would never get the opportunity to see at home due to the availability of treatments.

I am extremely proud to have been part of Surgeon Noonan and to have spent time with the OLA sisters in Bugisi and Mwamapala.

Sarah Donoghue
Medical Student, UCC