For the past four weeks, I had an opportunity to shadow doctors at Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (K.A.T.H.). Not only this was my first shadowing experience at a hospital, but it was also my first experience at a hospital setting outside of the States or South Korea. I was able to explore various wards and departments at K.A.T.H., including the emergency rooms(ER), pediatric emergency unit, pediatric intensive care unit (ICU), and the biochemistry lab. All of these experiences helped me to grasp an understanding of how the hospital operated, often times with limited resources, for the best interest of the patients. For example, I saw nurses and doctors using oxygen tanks to supply oxygen to patients in an effort to cover the lack of access to resources and equipment. I also noticed that while there were medical doctors specialized in certain fields and were working in particular departments, such boundaries were not rigid; sometimes doctors from the different department had to cover other departments’ patients due to the shortage in the numbers of medical professionals. While I was shadowing at a breast cancer ward, for example, there were doctors from a different department each week to diagnose breast cancer patients. As with instances described above, I marveled at the practicality of each doctor and nurses at K.A.T.H which exceeded to a point where they were able to overcome the limitations of resources and the large patient-doctor ratio.
I did notice certain limitations that were out of reach from these already outperforming doctors and nurses at K.A.T.H. There were patients and their families who were camping outside of the emergency room because they could not afford to buy the medicine and/or treatments needed for the patients. The healthcare system in Ghana is provided by the government, yet the accessibility and the coverage of the health care system are in need of more improvement.
As expected, I was sometimes overwhelmed with the juxtaposition between my perception of medical ethics and the reality of the hospital setting at K.A.T.H. For instance, it took me a long time to get used to the settings at the emergency rooms, where the patients’ privacies were very limited, if not non-existent. Patients in the red ward and the yellow ward (patients triaged for needing severe care) were directly exposed to the outsiders or onlookers without any curtains prevailing their beds or their bodies. Often times, there would be a group of medical students shadowing a doctor while the doctor was making his/her round around the emergency room and explaining each of the patient’s medical cases. I couldn’t help but ask myself whether my action was truly ethical. While this is not to be dismissive about the importance of shadowing and necessity of providing on-field learning experiences for medical students, I was still nevertheless perplexed by how the patients may feel objectified and treated like a specimen. While this shadowing experience around the emergency room was merely a learning experience for students like me, some of the patients were battling between the border of life and death while I was “learning.” I realized then how easy it was, especially in any hospital settings, for one to take away the humanity and individuality from the patients and solely see them as part of the “learning” experiences. It was so easy for me to invalidate the patient’s pain and agony, and instead just scribble down few medical terminologies from the patient’s chart record on to my notebook. Yet, I am torn apart because I also equally value the importance of acquiring knowledge on-field by observing each of the patients and their cases, especially when it comes to training future doctors and nurses. To what degree this compromise needs to be made, I cannot give a clear answer. However, I did learn the importance of sympathy and how it was crucial for anyone who practices medicine to maintain an emotional link with the patients, even if it is not to a full extent. My shadowing experiences at K.A.T.H. definitely provided more insight into what a good doctor-patient relationship is and how it is important to maintain it in any hospital/clinical settings.
Links to more information on public health/healthcare system of Ghana: