Christmas Day in 2013 will always stand out for Dr Elaine Yip. In the midst of festivities she was hard at work with colleagues to save the life of a pregnant woman whose baby died in her uterus. With only three units of blood available in the Church of Scotland Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal, they were fighting to keep the bleeding mother alive. Turning a challenging situation around, the doctors managed to stabilise their patient who was later transported by helicopter to a hospital in Pietermaritzburg. It is experiences like these that England-born Dr Yip values most about working in South Africa. She has been in the country since August 2013.
Friends who had worked in South Africa’s public health sector convinced her to travel here to offer her medical skills to those in need, specifically in rural areas.
“I came here to broaden my experience in different fields of medicine. It’s really good to be exposed to so many things,” says Yip about treating diseases like TB and HIV. South Africa is an attractive option, says Yip. “It is one of the easiest places to get a job as an English medic. They recognise our qualification, you get a good salary and it is closer to home with the time difference.”
It’s not the first time Yip has set foot on the African continent. She did volunteer work in Tanzania and Ghana while still a student. Working at the 347-bed Church of Scotland Hospital has exceeded most of her expectations. The hospital, situated in the uMsinga sub-district between Greytown and Dundee is small, but has a good amount of resources, she says. “Everything you need is there most of the time. You get exposure to lots of different situations and learn easily from people in a much more informal way. I expected a lack of resources, but was surprised at what they have.”
“If you come without fixed expectations you will learn a lot,” she says, referring to a boy with HIV and Kaposi’s sarcoma in the mouth she treated. “He had an acute airway obstruction and we quickly had to take him to theatre before transporting him to Pietermaritzburg. If it didn’t go right he would have died quickly.”
Working in a rural hospital can be challenging. “Sometimes a machine doesn’t work well. You learn quite quickly it doesn’t matter too much, these small frustrations. We improvise, and everything usually turns out well and the patients get the healthcare they need.”
Yip is humble about her contribution: “I am sure I am not making it worse by being an extra pair of hands, and bringing skills I’ve picked up from elsewhere.”