Articles and Case Studies

My Elective - Cape Town, South Africa

21 May 2012


Member name/s: Emma Forrester, Kate Heffernan and Claire Sutton
University: Destination: Cape Town, South Africa
Year: 2011
Hospital: Somerset Hospital

Working in Cape Town

We were all based in the Somerset Hospital near the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront . I was in the emergency department (ED) with Kate while Claire worked upstairs in the obstetrics and gynaecology department.

From day one, the ED was an eye opening experience. The disease profile of the patients tripped our knowledge at every step and we had to become quickly accustomed to recognising the symptoms of miliary tuberculosis and late presentations of HIV such as Kaposi ’s sarcoma.

Kate and I were working together as a team to manage Category 1 patients by ourselves. We were providing each other support to make up for the lack of human resources in the department. Claire was extremely busy upstairs managing unexpected “baby on the way” type situations by herself!

Challenges working in Cape Town

The main difference Kate and I noticed between Australia and South Africa was the significant disproportionate number of doctors and nurses to patients, as well as the lack of beds available for sick people. It meant that manageable situations could significantly worsen and the sick weren't attended to quickly enough.

Claire saw just how lucky Australian women are during childbirth. Woman here have access to a wide array of pain relief when they are in labour compared to the majority of South African woman who are not offered anything.

Travel opportunities in Cape Town

During our stay we took several trips around Cape Town. We travelled along the Garden Route, went on a game safari as well as explored city sites. We had lots of fun nights out in the city as well as Campus Bay.

We hired a car for the length of the trip and were well prepared with a road directory and Google maps to get around town. We sought advice from locals and avoided putting ourselves in dangerous areas at night and made sure we kept together when we were out and about.

My recommendation

My recommendation I would absolutely love to go back to Somerset Hospital and spend more time in the ED. It has helped me to become more confident in my clinical skills and decision making. South African doctors are extremely skilled in working in stressful conditions with few resources and they rely on their knowledge and clinical judgement far more than tests and scans.

If you plan to go to South Africa for your elective ensure that the main language of your hospital is English not Afrikaans and that you book extra time for sightseeing- such a beautiful country!



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