My time spent at this elective easily included my most defining moments during medical school. The trauma seen at this hospital is unlike that (in volume and character) seen anywhere in the United States, due to a very different culture surrounding violence and deficient living environments. I was able to take on as much responsibility as I wanted but also ask for help at any moment I needed. Although you need to function as part of the team and keep patient flow moving, there are many quieter moments you can break off from the team and dive into a niche to learn more. For example, follow around the plastic surgeon who came for a consult and they will probably let you do the entire nasal laceration repair, which includes a cartilage fracture, if you are capable. Or, if you are interested in the OR, most surgeons are more than happy to have you let you participate. Days were long, consisting of 12- or 24-hour shifts (the latter mostly toward the weekend), but time flies because there is always trauma coming in.
In the beginning, there was a definite learning curve to hospital and procedural navigation. Being a public hospital, there were many things broken, missing or out of stock. But there was a bright side. Trauma surgeons come to Bara to train from all over the world, even as residents and attendings. These people had a great deal of knowledge and followed ACLS/ATLS and all other recommendations to their best ability, sometimes finding genius ways to cope with lack of materials at the hospital.
I was a bit apprehensive coming into this elective because I was a solo female traveler coming to Johannesburg, but my desire to take part in this experience kept me going. My host ended up being extremely helpful with every step of the process and hosted other international medical students going through the same rotation. Trauma is the most popular rotation at the hospital, and at any given time there are up to 10 international medical students rotating there. I lived with several of those students. They helped orient me to Johannesburg and the hospital, and we formed a close group of friends. I didn’t explore too much of the city during my time there, but I took a two-week block off following the rotation and was lucky enough to go to Kruger National Park and Cape Town!
Although I highly recommend this rotation, there is also a lot to consider if someone wishes to do it. You should apply 12-15 months in advance due to the competitive nature of trauma here. You should also consider that frankly, Johannesburg (especially Soweto, where they will work), is a dangerous place with many of its own rules that need to be followed to stay safe. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at email@example.com with questions.
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