Phil Loughnane has recently returned home to Gloucestershire from a short stint as a locum dentist at Hope Dental Centre in Mwanza, Tanzania. He shares with us some of his experiences
I have been involved with the charity Bridge2Aid for over ten years, volunteering on the Training Programme, raising money with my teams at Chipping Manor Dental Practice in the UK, and even taking a group of team members and patients out to Tanzania to help refurbish a community health facility.
This trip was different, though. I wasn’t going to Tanzania as trainer, fundraiser or even flag waver. I was going as a locum dentist, to join the team at the new Hope Dental Centre. Hope is run by Bridge2Aid as a social enterprise. It is a fee-paying dental practice, and all its profits are transferred to Bridge2Aid to extend its invaluable work in East Africa. Hope offers access to quality dentistry in Mwanza. More importantly, though, the more patients it sees, the greater the support for Bridge2Aid – and that’s where we visiting locums can help.
I was excited to see the new facility. I had visited the old Hope clinic, which was no longer fit for purpose, and I’d heard a lot about the new one. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect; I knew that the equipment was all new, as it had been donated from the UK during the building project, but seeing how well the surgeries were equipped and stocked was great – and having an air con unit in my surgery was amazing!
A friend, Julie Williams, had visited the clinic a month earlier, and she warned me to expect a warm welcome. That’s exactly what I did receive – a very welcoming team who coped patiently with me learning the ropes and consequently running into lunchtime (just like at home!).
And it wasn’t just that that felt like home; the standards of cross infection control employed at the clinic were really reassuring, the computer system uses the latest version of Exact, and most of the kit and materials were very familiar.
There are of course some adjustments to make. It wouldn’t be worth travelling 4,000 miles if there weren’t. There are some challenges we don’t face often at home, such as frequent power outages, and the resident team adjust easily to these. Though the Hope project manager summed up my contribution by saying that I was wonderfully ordinary – when the power went down I was the only one working because it was still possible to extract teeth without the compressor.
Although there were some ex-pats, the majority of patients are Tanzanian. I did anticipate I may have a problem communicating, but it was no issue at all. I saw wonderfully well-informed, appreciative patients who nearly all spoke English. When they didn’t, my nurse was always on hand to translate so this was much less of a problem than anticipated.
Beware; depending on the season, it’s not always baking hot – one afternoon there was torrential rain which sounded so loud on the tin roof. It would have been hard to hear yourself speak. I just looked at my nurse and smiled because it was so unique.
The resident clinicians do not have much contact with other dental professionals, so an important role for the visiting locum is just to share how others go about things. I’m a little disappointed in how little time I ended up spending with Drs Yusuf and Mo. We had hoped to do some training but in fact the appointment book filled so quickly this was barely possible. I hope instead I was able to provide a role model of hard work, efficiency and professionalism; being organised and productive. They are working in a busy practice, so any tips on how to be more efficient were seized upon eagerly.
In some ways, I felt more like a learner than a tutor. I felt like a Foundation Dentist working in their surgery on the first day, so it was a great way to empathise with that experience of feeling so new. I even struggled with a surgical extraction and had to get help! The experience of starting a difficult procedure without really knowing the experience or training of your team was an education. I had checked the instruments thoroughly but I hadn’t discussed the nurse’s role beforehand.
And it wasn’t all work, either; one unexpected event was a ‘boys night out’ with the two resident dentists, Yusuf and Mo, which was a great team event.
Doing a stint as locum at Hope is hard work, but extraordinarily satisfying. Everyone there is eager to learn, but also quick to jump to assist. The team and patients are all so appreciative, and although the area outside the clinic is unmistakably ‘Africa’, inside it is familiar to anyone who has worked in a general practice in the UK. The same, but very different!
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to find out more about locuming at Hope