2011 PFIG Recipient Lauren Agyekum

Career Administrator

Lauren Agyekum
School of Nursing
Nursing Major
2012 Graduation Year

Internship: Ghana Health Service

Notes on the first week

I have been fortunate enough to secure an internship position with the Ghana Health Service – Family Health Division this summer for 8 weeks in Accra, Ghana. The Ghana Health Service works with the state of healthcare all throughout Ghana through a policy and program level. So why did I want to intern here? As a nursing student, I am very interested in healthcare, and as a Ghanaian-American, I am very interested in Ghana. Growing up in America with a mom who had grown up in Ghana, I constantly heard about the vast differences between the two countries, especially when it came to healthcare. As I became interested in women’s health care and maternity, I looked at the conditions in Ghana and became very intrigued with the many issues occurring. Upon learning more and more about certain circumstances in Ghana, I was moved to become a part of the solution. This began my journey to finding ways to get involved in healthcare policy in Ghana and eventually landed me at the Ghana Health Service – Family Health Division.

What I love most about my internship is that nothing is set in stone. I was not given a set list of what my duties and activities will be, because throughout my time here it will change. As conferences, projects, and programs arise, I will be allowed to jump on board and assist in any way that will be most beneficial to my learning experience. Even in my first week here, my supervisor thought of a great idea to have me go to a children’s hospital for the next two weeks to observe the state of a Ghanaian hospital along with learning about the different issues that most affect children from a clinical standpoint. I also have plans to go to a major meeting in Ghana that will talk about possible changes in maternal healthcare policy with the many different stakeholders. I have been told these meetings can get very heated, so I am very interested and excited. To know that I can be there when a new policy that affects all of the future pregnant women in Ghana may be created is really amazing to me. I am just so grateful my supervisor thought to bring me along rather than have me filing papers and other boring popular internship duties. I can’t wait to see what else I end up doing while I am here.

The Family Health Division is made up of nutrition services, family planning, child health, reproductive health, and what I’m most interested in, maternal health. For my first week, I spent my time mostly getting introduced to these different areas, their purpose, and their current programs and projects. I have learned about the major health issues in Ghana including, high maternal mortality and morbidity rates, malaria, sickle cell disease, malnutrition, along with other issues. Not only have I learned about the problems but also I have learned about the many ways the people I am working with have helped to fight them. They have made great strides and come up with very beneficial programs to help the people in Ghana, and I have been in awe just learning about them. Just from sitting down and talking to the department heads I have learned so much. These people are some of the most intelligent people I have ever met, and I am proud they are in charge of healthcare in Ghana. To look at past statistics and compare them to now, I can really see the improvements that have been made in Ghana. So when I think of what I look most forward to during this internship, it is learning. I know just working beside them and learning from them, will be the best experience I could ever imagine. I have also spent much time reading the many publications reviewing current healthcare policy allowing me to be more up to speed so I can keep up with everybody else.

I really am excited for the journey that awaits me in Ghana. I have been in Ghana for 3 weeks now (I came 2 weeks before the start of my internship), and it has been nothing less than amazing. Between being back in Ghana after 18 long years and this internship position, I know this will be one of the best summers of my life. I have wanted to return to Ghana for so many years now, that now that I am actually here, it is hard to describe just how great it makes me feel. My main goal while I am here is to just absorb everything. From the moments I have with family members that I haven’t seen since I was 3 years old to the amazing learning opportunities I will have during my internship, I just want to take it all in. While taking it all in I hope to grow both professionally and personally. I hope that by the end of this summer I will know whether or not I want to become involved in healthcare policy as a future career or not. And most of all, with anything I do, I hope I can walk away from this position knowing that not only did I learn from them, but that no matter how small, I also was able to make an impact on those around me.

Midway

First of all, I can’t actually believe that I am half way done with my internship. These four weeks have not only been an eye opener, but a truly amazing experience. My supervisor has made sure that I make the most of my time here and has truly made sure I take a plunge into the healthcare system. It has been interesting to see a lot of the policies and projects that were thought of at the office I work at being carried out very successfully.

Everyday for two weeks I experienced a different unit at Princess Marie Louise Children’s Hospital. Although I learned a lot each day, some of the days really stood out to me. For one, I was able to go to two different children’s wards and work with patients on an inpatient level. I was also able to go to the nutrition unit, which focuses on children suffering from malnutrition. Here a free program provided foods that would help the children gain weight and become healthy. I also was able to be at a family planning unit for a day where I focused on helping educate women on the different options they had. Here I saw a stigma on family planning as many women had to hide this information from their husbands and family members as many people looked down on it for different reasons.

I have also had the opportunity to be a part of a few very important meetings outside of my time at the hospital. These meetings many times included proposals for changes in policies involving either women or children and would be held in massive conference rooms with representatives from major organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO). One meeting was even televised and I was able to see myself on the news the next day. I could picture myself sitting in on meetings like these in the future.

For the next few weeks I will be at Ridge Hospital where I will focus on maternal care including labor and deliveries. Like I previously said, I have come to enjoy child health, but I am ready for some maternal care. With maternal mortality and morbidity being such a major problem in Ghana, I am really looking forward to seeing what initiatives are being done to help combat the problem and how they are being carried out in hospitals and health facilities.

As I take a look back on my goals, I really do think I am accomplishing them. I am really taking everything in and appreciating the time I have had. Being so open has allowed me to learn so much. I originally thought I would come into this position and be able to start projects and programs and really take the wheel, but I am learning that being in the passenger’s seat is also very fulfilling. I remember being so scared that I may not like my internship and being so nervous on the first day. Now, I come in and out of the office as comfortably as I do my home. I sit between doctors and professors at meetings and always get a chance to be a part of very important discussions. I am thankful that my internship has proven to be both fun and educational. I am actually sad thinking of these next few weeks, as I know my time here is coming to an end. I will make sure to continue working on my goals and continue enjoying my time here.

Final Reflections

Looking back at my internship experience, I can say I truly enjoyed it. My fears of getting stuck behind a desk filing papers turned out to be non-existent. Rather, I was able to participate in important national meetings, care for children in Ghana’s biggest and most historical children’s hospital, voice my concerns about certain aspects of Ghana’s healthcare system and spark discussion, and be a part of bettering the healthcare system for the nation. I met amazing doctors, nurses, and policy makers and befriended many of them. I was able to witness the positive effects past policies had created in Ghana while being able to be a part of the planning process for future changes. I had the most amazing supervisor, Dr. Sagoe-Moses, who honestly was like a mom to me while I was there. She took me to dinner with her lovely family, always made sure I was okay, and checked on me constantly during a time when I became ill. I became so comfortable with her and knew I could talk to her about anything, and that was very comforting and fortunate for me.

Since the midway point in my internship, I continued to grow. Not only was I comfortable in the office, but also I became comfortable offering my input. I overcame my shyness and talked to many of the WHO and UNICEF officials I saw, expressing my interest in what they do. I knew that if I wanted to make the most out of this experience I was going to have to take more initiative and I did. My boss began to trust me more and I was able to work more by her side rather than for her. At one point she even gave me a document to completely take care of myself that was for a new campaign they were going to do of sending out text messages of important breastfeeding facts. The fact that she was confident enough in me to take care of this task was truly great.

I was really hoping that this experience would give me a clear answer of whether or not I wanted to work in healthcare policy one day and surely enough it did. I really grew to appreciate the work of healthcare policy makers and hope that one day I can also engage in this type of work, especially in Ghana. I know I would feel as though my life goal was complete if in 15 years I can say that I am engaging in this type of work in Ghana. Although it is a long-term goal, I know I will make sure to keep it in the front of my head so I never lose focus of it. I know now it is important to accomplish my short-term goals in order to one day reach this long-term goal.

On a personal level, being in Ghana this summer led me to the best family reunion I could ever ask for. Some of my cousins who were once strangers to me are now some of my best friends. I will never forget my last day in Ghana, where I cried like a baby when I had to say goodbye to family. For my cousins who escorted me to the airport, we could not stop hugging each other and I almost refused to let go as I knew that once I did, I would be headed inside the airport which would mean I would soon be travelling across the ocean, an 11 hour plane ride away from them. Its funny to think that when I first met them, we met with nervous hugs not knowing whether or not we should, and now we couldn’t even let go of one another. To this day, I have talked to some of my cousins every single day. I still miss them dearly and wish I could be with them again, and hopefully one day in the near future I will be able to afford another trip back. I am from a wonderful country filled with an amazing culture and intelligent people. My goals were to really absorb everything and find out whether or not I would want to work in this field in the future, and I am happy to say that I feel as though I accomplished those goals with flying colors. I really want to say thank you to the Parents Committee Internship Grant. You will never understand just how much your grant did for me both on a professional and personal level.