Rea Legadima at Maidstone & Tunbridge Wells Hospital, UK

Greetings and salutations to you, future S.U. ambassadors and travelers. I’m an MBChB V student who just experienced the most incredible, educational endeavor of my life to date.

I cannot express enough gratitude to Stellenbosch University for being part of this journey. Thank you for the immense effort you contribute towards the dreams of your students.

Last year November 2019, I was blessed with the opportunity of doing my MBChB IV elective at Maidstone & Tunbridge Wells Hospital in England.

This wasn’t an easy journey as I started to apply at various universities at the end of my MBChB III academic year in 2018, however, I was too late to be considered for the 2019 elective process as most faculties has closed in July of 2019. I was, of course, tremendously disappointed at this outcome, however, not enough to deter me from my dream. I then decided to email various hospitals across the United Kingdom. To my delightful surprise, I received a number of responses from hospitals.

I chose to work at Maidstone&Tunbridge Wells Hospital due to their efficient correspondence and the location of the hospitals were deemed to be safe and welcoming. . I applied from my UK Visa in September 2019 and processing only took approximately three weeks. By October 2019, final examinations were the only hurdle left before my departure.

I arrived at Heathrow Airport on the 27th of October 2019 after a 14 hour flight, not to mention a 4 hour lay-over in Dubai, with extreme exhaustion. My loving relatives, whom I hadn’t seen for ages where kind enough to fetch me from the airport. I arrived a week prior to the commencement of my elective to sort out the all the administrative enquiries like blood tests and acclimatizing to the new environment.

I was able to rent a room with a lovely Zimbabwean family through the assistance of a relative. I would have used If things had not materialized.

My elective comprised of a two week rotation in Ophthalmology followed by another two week rotation in Anesthesia. Maidstone&Tunbridge Wells Hospital are sister hospitals; I decided to do my Ophthalmology rotation at Maidstone Hospital and thereafter my two week rotation of Anesthesia at Tunbridge Wells Hospital.

Ophthalmology was pleasant in many aspects such as learning from various eye specialists, orthoptist and opticians and the early hours of course, however, it was at times too specialized of a programme especially for a student who aims to achieve the basic skills. Then, when I thought things couldn’t get better, Anaesthesia walked into my life. I enjoyed the hours, the various departments in which Anesthesia works with, and the staff. One could note the disparities in curriculum of U.K. medical students compared to the South African medically trained students. As South African medical students, more specifically, Stellenbosch medical students, we are given the opportunity to perform skills at a much junior level than the U.K. students who may need to wait till they are Foundation 1/2 doctors or fellows-registrars- but every moment was an opportunity to learn. I was able to meet and greet students from King’s College London during my rotation in Anesthesia, who were able to jovially share their experiences as medical students from a different side of the world, and I too shared my own. This was a great exchange as both parties have a bit more insight and perspective of the world through the lens of healthcare.

I, of course, took every opportunity to see the cultural history and background of England with its beautiful architecture and I was tremendously fortunate to be in England during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Final- it was a proud moment to be South African. Using such an efficient transport system was so profound- trains and buses were usually on time and if not, you would be notified of how long the delay would be; something very baffling for this South African. Meeting various English characters and indulging in English nuances and culture was pleasant and more so being able to meet diaspora in England was refreshing. One needs to emphasize the need to save when going to the U.K. as our rand to the pound is significantly weak and one must be good at budgeting one’s finances well.

I spent a total of 5 weeks in chilly, affluent (and I mean AFFLUENT), breath-taking beautiful England. As a female, travelling alone to a new destination, I felt a lot more safe walking home or to hospital and using various forms of public transport at night than when I’m here at home. This is not to say that England is 100% crime-free, however people in England make it a point to live harmoniously. An advantage to studying medicine in South Africa is the practical skills we acquire at a young age in our professional careers, allows us to effortlessly thrive in any given healthcare climate; I am not encouraging another season of “BRAIN-DRAIN” from our young professionals, this is just to compliment S.U. academia as we’re able to compete and/or be integrated with students on an international level without feel inferior due to the fact that we hail from Africa.

I would love to venture the globe especially in conjunction with my career path as I believe travel creates an in-depth worldview of aspects known and unbeknownst to me. This experience also highlighted how I need to pour these skills into my immediate South African community and contribute towards its betterment and advancement in healthcare and other social entities that contribute towards a substandard healthcare system.