Dr Melissa Wyn Everett grew up in a small village in Wales and knows how lucky she is to have had the chances and opportunities she’s had. As a UK born doctor, she decided that she would like to work with people who weren’t so lucky. Meeting AHP staff at a careers fair alerted her to the need for doctors in rural South Africa. This seemed like the perfect opportunity.
When she arrived at the OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg, she was welcomed by the AHP orientation team who helped her to settle in. AHP offers foreign-qualified doctors a structured Orientation Programme, aligned with the National Department of Health’s policies, to prepare them clinically, culturally and logistically for life in a rural environment. As part of the this programme, AHP hosts regular contact orientation sessions. During these sessions doctors attend a three-day workshop on the integrated management of TB, HIV and sexually transmitted infections to prepare them for South Africa’s disease burden. Local experts give clinical talks to alleviate any anxiety foreign-qualified doctors might experience about working in a rural area and doctors participate in cultural activities to introduce them to the cultural and historical landscape that informs South African life. They also receive an orientation satchel comprising medical books and other resources.
Everett started working at Bethesda Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal in July 2013. “I got a chance to travel before starting work, which was amazing. I got the chance to see a lot of South Africa before arriving [at the hospital]. I didn’t realise how much there is to see. It’s an incredible country. I met so many lovely people along the way and everyone was so helpful. There was never a time when I felt unsafe or stuck,” said Everett.
Despite the extensive experience she had, Everett had a steep learning curve when she arrived. “The medicine is very different in South Africa. In particular there’s a lot of HIV and TB, and many of these patients are very sick. Whereas in the UK, working in general practice, most patients have stable chronic diseases such as ischemic heart disease, COPD, heart failure, diabetes and depression.”
“Educating people about their health and helping them to learn how to live with HIV is an ongoing process and I got better at it. I even learnt to speak Zulu to communicate better with the patients. Bethesda is a lovely hospital, it’s got a nice community feel to it. It’s close to Mkuze, which is small town where I could get most things I need.”
Everett had a wonderful time in South Africa and learnt a lot. Although she had to return to the UK at the end of 2014, she wouldn’t mind coming back to work in South Africa again.