Global Health Neurology Program - Elena Sherman

Elena Sherman’s story

Global Health Scholar  2015-2016

Reflection on Rotation at Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital- Kumasi, Ghana

“Obruni! Obruni!” several small children call to us as we take our usual morning walk from our hotel to Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH).  I wave to them as usual and silently smile.  Young children always tell you an innocent, uncensored version of truth.  Obruni is the Twi word for ‘white person’ and it is obvious that I immediately stand out as an outsider.

It has been nine years since I last set foot on the African continent.  Last time, I was a pre-medical student studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa and researching substance abuse and domestic violence in Black and Coloured townships.  This time, I return as a fourth-year neurology resident, about 6 months from graduation, working as a clinical resident at Komfo Anokye in Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana.

In some ways, my visit and experience has felt familiar.  If you have never traveled to Africa before, you should know of the existence of something called ‘Africa time’.  It refers to the fact that things move at a slower pace.  Gone are the precision of exact deadlines and the certainty of meeting times and, to this American, it is beyond liberating.  Despite the laid-back pace, myself and my fellow residents are highly productive; the work gets done---just without the stress to which I am accustomed.

In some ways, this visit has felt so very different.  As a physician this time, providing direct patient care, I have borne witness to and assumed responsibility for so much more.  During my month at Komfo Anokye my clinical responsibilities included providing consultation to six internal medicine teams on neurological patients, staffing a once weekly, high-volume outpatient neurology clinic, and providing both bedside and lecture-based instruction to residents and medical students.

I saw a lot of cases during my month—patients with stories, some neurologically fascinating, some heartbreaking.  I cannot concisely put to paper what these experiences collectively meant, but I will tell you about two patients who will stay with me.

If you have made it to the end of this reflection, I apologize for its length, but hope that it has captured the essence of some of my experiences during these four weeks.  During my time here in Kumasi, I have been the recipient of something I can only describe as radical hospitality.  Since the first day that I arrived, the people I have met have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome, to include me to social gatherings, and to offer their friendship.  Imagine if you landed in New York from another country and the first person you met getting off of your plane offered to stay with you for two hours while you waited to retrieve your baggage just so they could show you how to get to another terminal?  It happened here.

I am so grateful for the experiences I have had and friendships I have made this month.  I am looking forward to returning to Kumasi in the future and look forward to Stanford’s continued partnership with Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital.