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Physio Student lands Dream Placement in Tanzania

Thursday 28 September 2017

Sophie Wallett tells us about her amazing experiences working in a hospital Tanzania thanks to funding from Santander.

What did you study and are you a student or graduate?

I’ve just graduated physiotherapy. I was in my third year when I applied for this funding and as I was doing my elective placement but yeah, I’ve graduated now.

How much money did you receive for your elective placement?

For my elective placement I got £1000 from Santander.

As well as funding for travel did you receive any additional support from the University ofSalford when applying for or using your award?

I did get support in terms of applying, my lecturers were quite good in terms of giving me support and helping me with what it would be like going to a different country, it’s completely different being somewhere in a third world country. So they were quite good in supporting and they gave me some tips of what to do and what not to do. We also had talks about setting up a blog so that people in the University and other students on my physio course could see what exactly I’ve been doing and where I’ve been and things like that.

How important was it for you to receive this cash award?

Super, super important. I wouldn’t have been able to go on this trip without this money. I’ve been working full-time, well nearly full-time it felt like, at the student’s union bar in the SU and that was my main source of income but even doing that, obviously I was in third year studying there was no way I could have afforded to do that without it because although I was working as much as I could the pressures of third year are massive. It was really intense so I really needed that extra money because it was an expensive trip overall.

Can you tell me more about your placement? Where it was, what it was and what did you experience?

So the placement itself was based at Muhimbili Orthopaedic Institute so that’s the biggest hospital in Tanzania, it’s their national hospital, so I was based in the orthopaedic department. So orthopaedics and neuro was basically our main area that we were focusing on. So I was treating children right the way through up to adults, like babies right the way through to older people. The majority of their conditions were car accident or road traffic accident related so it was a lot of spinal cord injuries, brain injuries resulting in hemiplegia and things like that. A lot of spinal TB because of the area that they live in and because of how poor the country is they weren’t getting the right vitamins and things and as a result babies were being born with hydrocephalus, spina bifida, things like that. So it was dealing a lot with that kind of group of people. We worked really closely as a physio team,it was really good and we had our own sort of outpatients. You did inpatients in the morning but very briefly and then outpatients in the afternoon. There were other students there but they were local Tanzanian or students from Zanzibar that worked with us as well.

Why did you chose Tanzania for your placement?

Tanzania was definitely an option because I’ve always wanted to go to Africa anyway and I loved to have worked there that was a dream I’ve always had. I wanted to do other things as well while I was there not just work but on the weekends I wanted to go and see other places. I’ve always wanted to see Kilimanjaro and I’d always liked to see safari and things so I thought that was a really good way of properly immersing myself in the culture. If I can go work in it but also on the weekends go and visit different places, see what the local areas are like, Africa has always been a dream of mine.

What knowledge and skills were you able to bring to the people you worked with?

So knowledge and skills to the people I worked with, I would say a lot from my perspective. The local physio’s over there, there was only actually one main, now two, but there was only one main physiotherapy school in Kilimanjaro so everybody is taught there, all the physio’s were based there,taught there and everything. So they all sort of have the same ideas because they’ve all come from one place, nothing’s different really, so we, I think,brought a lot of just critical analysis thinking because we’d go and they would explain to us that this is the treatment we would give to this specific patient and my colleague and I would say “well why, why are you doing this?” And then they’d have to stop and think and when they couldn’t rationalise why they were doing what they were doing we were able to help them and say “well have you thought about doing this or what about this, could this happen? Could we do this instead?” And I think that gave them a lot more things to think about than they were originally used to. Sometimes it did cause a little bit of conflict because I’m coming from a completely different culture to them and we’re stuck in our own sort of ways that we do things over here in the UK and how they do things over there is different.

So it did cause a little bit of me sometimes saying “well I think we need to help these patients self-manage because they’re not going to get better if we don’t give them exercises to do at home or things to do when they’re not seeing us, I can’t keep bringing them back four times a week so let’s see what we can do”. But they were very much “no, we bring them back, we do therapy and then when they’re at home they just rest”. So I think it did bring them round to a new way of thinking for sure but equally they taught me a lot of how to use the bare minimum. You use what you’ve got, we’re not used to that here in the UK because we have all the equipment, we have all the things we need but they obviously don’t have that. People can’t even afford the little balls for hand therapy which they’d benefit from massively. I remember one patient we had who needed repositioning, pillows aren’t a thing that we could use regularly because they just don’t have them, so we asked the local family to go down to the beach and they just filled bags with sand and we used those to reposition the patient and it just worked really well. Things like elastic bands for hand therapy, I wouldn’t think of that here but they’ve taught me a lot to use the basics.

What impact has the placement had on you?

This placement has impacted on me on loads of different levels. Personally because it’s achieved a dream that I never thought I’d be able to do, I’ve wanted to do this for so long and it’s kind of made that come true. Not only has it achieved my dream, I think this has had a massive,massive impact on me getting a job because it makes me stand out from everybody else. A lot of people on our course stayed in the UK to do their elective and that’s great and they all did really well and had a great time but I feel like when it came to my interview questions, when they ask me certain scenarios,“tell me a time…” which is likely in a physio interview or any healthcare profession.“Tell me a time that you did this” or “tell me a time when you were able to do this”, I had so many scenarios that weren’t just bog standard “well I was in a hospital and I did this” because this was so much more than just an interaction because there was so many other things. There was a language barrier, I couldn’t speak the language, I was having to try and get around that, I had so many situations then I could go to my employer and say “Well I can do this,I’ve done it in another country. If I can do this in a country with no one that I know in a language I don’t know I can 100% do this for you”. I think that was massively, massively important in me getting this job.

I had my interview before I’d graduated, it was just after I’d finished all the modules and found out I’d passed everything. I went for a job interview at a local trust, obviously this was quite scary, it’s the first job interview I’d ever been to and I’d never done anything like this before.You’re always sort of supported and stuff by uni and then you’re out in the big wide world on your own. So I went to this job interview, told them a lot about the time at Tanzania and within half an hour after that job interview, and they’d done a few days of interviews too, they offered me the job and there was only one space and they’d had two days’ worth of interviews, that’s a lot of candidates. And that was so good to have that security then because I knew then that I was going to have a job before I’d even graduated I’d been offered something. I could go and have a good time at graduation and know that I had a full time job to go to, set up and ready and that took a massive weight off my shoulders because it’s difficult for graduates particularly now to get a job let alone before you’ve even had your graduation ceremony so it was really good to take that weight off my shoulders.

Did you learn anything new about yourself as a result of this experience?

I learnt a lot about myself while being away, obviously 6 weeks away from home is not like uni because you’re in a completely different environment, you don’t know anyone, you’re just thrown into this environment.I’d never been to Africa before, I didn’t know what it was like, I didn’t know what the people were like, I didn’t know the place I was going to, there was nobody there that if there was a problem I could go to. So I’ve gained a lot of independence while I was there which is really important because as soon as I start my job particularly and just moving out of home full stop you need that independence, you need to be comfortable that you know you can sort things out yourself and that you can organise things. So that was really good,independence was definitely a big thing. I’ve learnt a lot about communication skills as well, being somewhere where I can’t speak the language, or speak very little of the language because I did have Swahili lessons locally to try and help me build relationships with patients, but that language barrier was very difficult. So you don’t just have to communicate via language it has to be non-verbal communication and everything like that so that’s something I didn’t think I was particularly good at but after this I’ve definitely improved on that.

Other things I learnt about myself, I was okay being on my own, maybe I surprised myself with how I coped. There was difficult scenarios that you have to put yourself in, we heard awful stories about things that had happened at the hospital, saw awful things that you just think should not happen, particularly to some of the children been in car accidents and all sorts that you just think shouldn’t happen and I think you surprise yourself. I am quite an emotional person particularly when you see children and they’re hurt, you just want to do everything you can for them to help them get better but I think I managed to learn to just put your feelings aside and just do everything you can in that moment for that person, for that situation. It was hard but I think I’ve learnt that actually maybe I can deal with difficult situations a lot more than I expected because on some placements I have found it difficult, this was the hardest especially because sometimes you actually can’t believe what you’re seeing when something’s in front of you. The first day we walked into A&E there was a man on the stretcher, maybe a broken leg or something and his splint was a cardboard box with rope tied around it and so things like that just take you by surprise because you’ve never seen anything like that before but I think I was able to deal with those kinds of situations quite well and talk through it and reason through it with people that I’ve met there and I think that was maybe a big learning curve.

What would you say to someone who was thinking of applying for a cash award?

If you were thinking of applying for a cash award, a million, trillion percent go for it, it’s the best decision I made. It’s really difficult to get funding, I did apply for other funding through the CSP which is my Chartered Society of Physios and I had no luck there because you’re up against a massive, massive group of people with way more experience than you,doing bigger projects than you, it’s hard. This one was really good because it doesn’t just take into account what you’re planning to do, it’s about your background as well which I think is really great, if you have struggled in the past with things, money or home situations, this has been a really, really good one that can give you that extra boost and can boost you further forwards than other awards and funding can because they don’t take into consideration those things.

How did you find the process for applying for the award?

The process for applying for the award was actually really simple. It was just one form online that you just had to fill out, obviously you have to put some detail into it but I found it pretty straightforward. I did seek some help from various different SU members of staff and my lecturers as well to say “what do you think I should put in this?” “Can you give me a hand, what can I do because I’m not sure about some of these answers?” They were all really good and I thought it went pretty smoothly, it was a pretty straightforward process and they contacted me as soon as I’d found out that I got the award, straight in, sorted everything out for me. It was particularly good because I knew that I was going pretty soon after I found the award, in two weeks, and most places would’ve said well we can’t give you the funding it’s too short a notice. But uni were really good, sorted everything out, got it fast tracked for me so I made sure I had that money in my account before I went which was great.

If you could thank Santander for the opportunity they have provided what would you say?

If I could thank Santander I would say a massive, massive, massive thank you! I couldn’t have done this without you, I doubt I’d be in a job without you giving me this money! I’ve had the best time of my life! This has been an experience of a lifetime, I’ll never do anything like this again, it was just a dream come true, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve met friends for life, I’ve met people in Tanzania, physios that I keep in contact with now, we still talk. If they need any advice in terms of like physios and how we do things in the UK they can message me, I can message them. It’s just been the best experience, I’ve now got friends all over the world as a result of this. I just cannot stress how important it is for Santander to continue doing this for other people because it’s definitely changed me and my view on the world and people and healthcare systems in general. Just thanks so much!

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