I travelled to South Africa for my placement in orthopaedics at the New Somerset Hospital in Greenpoint, Cape Town. It was an interesting experience.
In terms of the placement itself, I found myself to be an unnecessary addition to the team. They were well staffed and so I was left to observe while in theatre for the majority of the time. And when I did get to scrub I was only asked to retract or apply suction.
It was only on my penultimate day on placement that I was allowed to remove three irritating screws from a tibial plate and suture the 3 incisions closed.
I was, however, exposed to interesting cases. HIV affects a large proportion of the population in South Africa such that a majority of our patients were HIV positive.
Additionally, tuberculosis is also a great concern in South Africa and I saw a number of cases from TB septic arthritis, spinal TB and pulmonary TB.
Moreover, there was a noticeable gap between the desires of the three consultants for patient care and how patients were actually treated. While best efforts were given in terms of surgical care, patients were hardly ever involved on ward rounds.
Beyond the placement itself, I had a fantastic time. As it turned out, South Africa is an incredibly popular destination for German medical students. I chose to stay on the hospital campus in the nurse’s residence and there were three other German students who moved in while I was there, with two of them doing orthopaedics as well.
To add, there were other German students based at New Somerset Hospital and more at Groote Schuur Hospital. Consequently, we ended up going on mountain hikes in a group of up to 10 every weekend and we went out to dinner some nights with the same number.
In this regard I had a wonderful experience. I hiked Table Mountain, Lions Head and the 12 apostles; I partook in 3 separate wine tastings across 3 separate vineyards over 3 weekends; and I walked all over cape town, doing 20km’s one day just getting lost between signal hill, Bo-Kaap and the city centre before walking home to the waterfront with one of the German students.
Despite some mild disappointments, it was a wonderful experience.