“I know the majority of my friends at medical school are interested in global surgery”
Katy is a 4th year medical student at Bart’s and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry. She completed a BSc in fetal and maternal medicine at King’s College London, and has volunteered in hospitals in Nairobi, Kenya and Aksum, Ethiopia. She is helping to organise this year’s Medsin Conference for students interested in global health.
Do medical students care about global surgery, or is the focus on graduating?
I know the majority of my friends at medical school are interested in global surgery – most of them will be doing some form of surgical attachment in a low-resource country during their electives. I think that with the arrival of increasingly sophisticated technology the world is becoming closer knit and it is easier than ever to exchange skills and share resources.
Why do you think it’s important?
It is important for students to understand that the way we do things here is a way, not the way. There is so much to learn from other countries and their systems and in turn I think, where we can, and where it is appropriate, we should offer to share our own experiences and skills.
What was the availability of safe surgery at the government maternity hospital in Nairobi?
The department was midwife run. There was one lead midwife and the majority of others were students. It was frustrating for them because they knew some of the women needed a caesarean section but there were no doctors or anaesthetists available to perform them most of the time.
Was there anything that surprised you?
I was surprised to see that it was often less about a lack of medicines and material resources and more about people. They need people trained to perform simple but life-saving operations, to deliver pain relief and to talk to and inform patients.
The lead midwife said that one of the biggest problems is a lack of patient education. They identify mothers with a breech presentation and ask them to come at 38 weeks’ gestation for a C-section, but many women don’t return because they worry that an operation will be more dangerous for their baby.
As a result the baby will often die and the mother can also suffer serious problems, even death. The midwife went on to say that it is hard to convince women otherwise – and they don’t have enough time to spend with each woman to explain things properly.
Do you think you’ll stay invested in global surgery long-term?
I don’t think I was there long enough to learn what my role could be – so I want to go back to Kenya for my elective to find out.