14 June 2019

  • Eilish McKenna
    Newcastle University

"My experience in Malawi has taught me more than any year in medicine has so far."

Our grant impact testimonials show how our grants have helped our grant recipients achieve goals, create networks and further their research. Eilish McKenna is a medical student at Newcastle University who visited Malawi after receiving a BSH student elective scholarship. Read Eilish's testimonial:

As a recipient of the BSH bursary I travelled to the country of Malawi to start a placement in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre. For the 8 weeks I was there I was based in the Paediatric Oncology ward.

Overall, visiting Malawi was a fantastic experience. On a personal level, I travelled independently which was a big goal for me. Academically I felt like I learnt a phenomenal amount. This summer has increased my confidence both inside and out of medicine and given me a much greater understanding of global health.

Whilst in Malawi I was working on a project that looked at the chemotherapy regimens for the children who have acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. I recorded the weekly blood results focusing on the white blood cell count, haemoglobin, lymphoblast count and platelets as well as recording significant events which occurred during their treatment such as the need for transfusions or instances of neutropenic sepsis. I have handed the data I have collected over to the oncologists based at the Great North Children’s Hospital who run the charity “Children with Cancer in Malawi”. The aim of this data collection is to tweak the doses of chemotherapy that children are discharged home with to reduce drastic changes within their blood counts which can lead to mortality.

Paediatric Oncology was a great academic experience with many learning opportunities, but I decided to take a break in the middle and spend a few days in the Paediatric emergency department. This allowed me to develop my practical skills and procedures as well as gaining confidence in participating and leading emergency scenarios such as respiratory distress and seizures. I felt a lot more self-reliant in ED as I was pushed to develop my interpretation of clinical signs and make a judgement in a time pressured scenario. It also allowed me to see how poor resource provision effects a trauma environment and how important competent clinical sign interpretation is without the reliance of the abundance of tests we have available in the UK.

I made the most of the weekends in Malawi by travelling around the local area. I was able to see some stunning scenery around the areas of Lake Malawi and Zomba Plateau and spent time meeting people and learning about the culture.

My experience in Malawi has taught me more than any year in medicine has so far. It has inspired my confidence in myself as a clinician, provided an understanding of global health in the context of tropical medicine and charity work and it has allowed me to improve communication skills through language and cultural barriers. I am exceedingly grateful for the opportunity that the BSH Bursary has afforded me. I know that the knowledge and skills I have developed in Malawi will make me a better doctor. I believe that once I have qualified I will continue to have interest in working in a global health setting.

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