Zara Wynne: My Eye-Opening Midwifery Elective in Zambia
Zara, 24, from North Yorkshire, is a recent midwifery graduate from the University of Wolverhampton. During the final year of her degree, Zara travelled to Lusaka in Zambia on a four-week elective placement to see the differences between healthcare in the UK and the developing world.
In the final year of my midwifery degree, I chose to travel to Zambia for a four-week elective placement; it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
I’d been to Zambia once before with my family. We spent a lot of time on safari, and I fell in love with the country and its people. When I realised I had the chance to go back, I jumped at it. Zambia is such a diverse country, and every day I spent there was amazing.
I discussed my clinical interests with the Work the World team, what I should expect, what to pack, activities that I could do when I got there, etc. When I finally arrived at the airport in Lusaka, I met other students who’d flown in on the same flight.
We arrived on a Sunday, and my placement in the hospital began on the Tuesday. I spent my four-week placement in the delivery suite. On my first day, we went to the hospital and were introduced to the local hospital staff.
The hospital staff were excited for me to be there. They wanted to teach me how they delivered care to women and their babies.
The staff were fascinated to hear about the way we delivered care in the UK. The Sisters asked their own students to spend time with me so that we could exchange skills and knowledge.
The delivery suite consisted of a long corridor with one long room divided into four. There were three beds in each section. There wasn’t much privacy in this area.
There were as many as three labouring women in one room, all able to see and talk with one another. This was completely different to what I was used to.
There was also a lack of equipment. But staff made the best of it, improvising in ways I wouldn’t have considered myself. They were obviously concerned with caring for treating their patients as best they could.
The women I helped care for were amazing. I was in awe of their strength. Nearly all the women went through labour and birth without pain relief.
But they rarely complained or made noise. They clicked their fingers, slapped their legs and let out only small cries when the pain was particularly intense.
Care is one-to-one in UK labour rooms. In Zambia, it’s more like one midwife caring for three women. Women were left unattended most of the time unless they were due observations, or the fetal heart needed monitoring. Speaking of which, the fetal heart was monitored only in half an hour intervals. Back at home we listen to the fetal heart rate every five to 15 minutes.
While on placement, I saw a vaginal breech delivery. I’m so glad for the experience. In spite of the complication, the mother did amazingly well. She was so happy to see her new baby.
I saw another woman deliver full-term twins. Again, she brought them into the world with no pain relief. She made it look easy.
I went to the delivery suite theatres a few times as well.
The theatre was very different to ones in the UK. There were fewer lights, less equipment, and fewer staff. Sheets and gowns were just pieces of blue fabric that had been ‘made sterile’. The gowns had marks and stains on them, but they were all they had.
One experience I’ll never forget is having a baby named after me. The story starts when I began my shift. I started looking after a lovely lady who was labouring with her fourth child. She already had three girls at home.
She took to me straight away. I think it was because I stayed by her side every step of the way. She leant on me, held and squeezed my hand.
Her baby was born, and I showed her the sex right away. It was another healthy baby girl, and she was so pleased. I asked her if she had a name for the baby yet. She responded by asking my name.
I told her, and she said: “I will call my baby Zara. She is Zara. Thank you, thank you, thank you."
I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I was humbled by it. I’ll never forget that day!
We explored Lusaka in the evenings, and travelled the rest of Zambia at the weekends.
The best weekend was our trip to Livingstone. I went with some of the other girls in the house and we had an amazing weekend. One evening, we went on a sunset cruise along the Zambezi River. The sunset was beautiful and definitely worthwhile.
The next day we visited Victoria Falls. The falls were breathtaking, and we walked around them, taking so many pictures. I’ll never forget it. I even did a 111 meter bungee jump off Victoria Falls Bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe. It took a lot of courage, but it was an experience I’m glad to have had. I won’t be doing it again anytime soon!
We went over to Botswana for a day of safari, including a boat safari and a game drive. We saw so many different animals in Chobe National Park, elephants, giraffes, hippos and many more, which was amazing.
I absolutely recommend travelling abroad for an elective placement. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and you shouldn’t pass it up. If you want to experience healthcare abroad, seeing how other countries healthcare systems work, do it.
I made so many friends too. They made my trip even better, and I’ll never forget them.
Zambia was perfect, and I would go back in heartbeat. I learnt so much and witnessed things that will stay with me forever.
Zara is now working as a midwife at Royal Preston Hospital as part of the birth centre team.
Work the World specialise in creating overseas Midwifery placements in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their destinations provide eye-opening insight into the challenges associated with delivering healthcare in the developing world.
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