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Voices: Dr Robyn Campbell (Scotland)

Abridged transcript of interview with:

Dr Robyn Campbell (Edinburgh, Scotland)
Placement: St. Patrick’s Hospital, Eastern Cape.
Dates: February 2015 – April 2016

After finishing medical school, my husband and I had each done a year of elective medicine in sub-Saharan Africa. He went to Malawi, and I went to Zambia.

We both had an interest in returning to work in a developing, or low-resource, setting.

Colleagues of mine recommended South Africa as a great place to do that: to practise medicine in a low-resource setting, but in a beautiful country, and with a process supported by AHP – and through AHP to take up an employment role rather than a volunteering role, as one must in many sub-Saharan countries.

This played an important role in our decision to work with AHP. We came to South Africa because the government was looking to employ foreign-qualified doctors and we, in turn, were looking to take up an employment role.

The route through AHP seemed to us to be the only way to do this, because of how overwhelming the bureaucratic process seemed.

It really is almost an impossible process to achieve without AHP. We certainly wouldn’t have been able to come without their assistance. The process is so long and so complicated that it is basically unachievable without someone in SA advocating on your behalf.

My husband and I were placed together in St. Patrick’s Hospital in Bizana, in the Eastern Cape.

The placement was in some ways even better than we hoped for. The work was hard, and the responsibility was a lot, but we both really enjoyed our time there in a number of different ways.

Coming from the UK, we saw that South African doctors are actually trained in more practical procedures than doctors back home. We had to step up and learn new things, which we were prepared and eager to do. We knew that would be part of the job. We learned a lot new practical skills during our placement.

AHP also gives you a lot of opportunity to take all sorts of courses, which we did. So in various ways it has added a lot to our professional portfolios.

Every day was challenging and somewhat exciting, and never unsupported. There was always someone on the phone – someone willing to help –  who you could call for support, either in your own hospital or in a nearby hospital that were.

The placement exceeded our expectations not only in terms of the work we were able to do, but also the lifestyle we were able to enjoy outside of work: the people; the sunshine; the scuba diving; the food; the beaches – being on a beach in the Eastern Cape with no one else around. We were also able to travel to Namibia, Mozambique, and Swaziland.

My husband and I often speak about how – if we could get visas, and jobs, and somehow transport our family nearer – we would consider coming to live in SA, and work here if we could. It’s still something we talk about. Because we loved it so much, and because we enjoyed the work there.

We recommend AHP to lots and lots of people we meet here [in Scotland] who have an interest in working abroad, particularly an interest in working in a low-resource setting. You need to be the right person for it, but if you are, then you will have a great time working in South Africa through the AHP process.