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What's it like on elective in South Africa?

In this blog Q&A, Ndaba Mtunzi - recent alumni of 2020 shares his experience of his elective in South Africa

Where did you go for your elective and why did you choose it?

I went to Edendale Hospital, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. I chose this location because I knew I thought there would be a high prevalence of traumatic injuries to treat which they were. This was unfortunately due to high rates of gun and knife violence, due to the community instigating justice.

What was the process in planning for your elective?

I found the Hospital on the MDU electives website. I emailed 9 months in advance and thankfully they were happy to have me! They required some money (maybe around £200/300) to be paid in advance but it’s a legitimate institution linked to the university of KwaZulu Natal. A great benefit was that the accommodation was incredibly cheap and affordable; however hiring a car was an essential requirement.

What opportunities did you have on your elective?

I was able to do lots of suturing and other clinical skills in emergency cases such as putting up IV lines & putting in cannulas. I also had the opportunity to put in chest drains but that was only because I was with them for a good amount of time. I found it incredibly useful for setting management plans for patients e.g. after they have been hit by a car as you clerk them and then present your plan to the doctors. Night shifts and evening shifts were particularly good! Interestingly, many of the patients speak Zulu so as a result they do not speak great English so history taking may be very “different”. In return, they expect you to stock up in the morning when it is quiet.

What did you do in your free time?

There were many places to explore nearby but also further out such as nature reserves - some of which being a 4-5 hour drive and the Draakensberg mountains (approx 3 - 4 hours away). The Durban beaches are 90 mins from the hospital that I was based which was great, but again this highlights the need for the car in order to make the most of my time there.

What is your overall opinion of your experience and any other advice?

It was very good for clinical exposure and I also had excellent teaching from a lovely medical team in A&E. If you are interested in going to South Africa but want more of a “holiday” experience as well, I would also recommend Cape Town as there is lots of fun stuff to do, plus it is likely there will be a larger number of students. The downfall is it will probably be in a tertiary centre so not as much clinical work as I had experienced. When it comes to booking electives, think carefully about what you would like to gain from your experience and plan around your objectives to get the most out of it like I did!


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