Dr Abeyna Jones had quite a traumatic welcome to South Africa.
The 28-year-old doctor from the United Kingdom (UK) arrived in Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal in September 2010 and immediately after leaving the airport, she had to help save someone’s life who was involved in a car accident. “I had to help with Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The guy had fallen off his motorcycle. It was quite a shocking experience as I had just come off the flight.”
Jones worked in the surgery department at Ngwelezana Hospital, a 554-bed hospital outside Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal, for about 17 months. She returned to the UK last month.
“When I left South Africa I cried. I really enjoyed it and I was sad to leave. It felt like home.”
Jones came to South Africa because she wanted to gain experience in a different healthcare system and wanted a ‘sabbatical from the NHS in the UK’. She chose a rural hospital, because working in a city would be too similar to the UK’s NHS system.
Jones says she learned a lot while working in South Africa. “I am a better surgeon and a better professional. My teamwork skills have improved and I am able to negotiate and communicate better. I can now also speak and understand some isiZulu which impressed my local colleagues!” explains Jones.
Working in a South African rural hospital was very different from her experience in the UK. “You deal with a lot of trauma including stabbings, gunshot wounds, burns and injuries relating to road traffic accidents. TB and HIV/AIDS are also pandemic.”
Jones says the language barrier between doctors and patients was difficult to cope with. “Foreign doctors at the hospital depend on nurses to translate as most patients only speak isiZulu. Dealing with the high death rate among young people in the area was also challenging”.
Exploring the natural beauty of KwaZulu-Natal and the rest of Southern Africa proved a respite from the ongoing, sometimes emotional trials at work.
“I lived in Mtunzini, close to a nature reserve. It was amazing. I had a good quality of life. We went on road trips every weekend.”
Foreign doctors coming to South Africa should have an open mind when they arrive and ensure they are properly prepared for the realities of working in public healthcare in rural areas, Jones advises.
“Part of coming to South Africa is enjoying the diverse cultures and scenery. It is such a beautiful country.”