A student’s reflection on an elective opportunity in Bénin

Posted on Wednesday, January 15, 2020

By: David Lavoie, uOttawa MD student

When I applied to medical school, I had the goal to eventually work in Northern Canada and internationally in global health initiatives. In first year, I learned of the Bénin elective, jointly organized by Montfort Hospital and the Francophone Affairs office of the Faculty of Medicine. I was immediately convinced that I had to be part of it. This is one of the rare opportunities as a student to not only go on a Global health elective, but also to partake in the preparation.

I was selected as the DFM Global Health Travel Bursary recipient for the Bénin elective in February 2019, along with four other medical students and one Internal Medicine resident. We were thrilled by the opportunity to work in resource poor settings and learn from experienced local professionals. We wanted to witness the impact of the determinants of health and a different cultural approach to healthcare. We were excited to learn the steps required to plan an international venture. For months, we organized fundraising events, we taught each other about relevant medical topics and we repackaged medications for distribution during our elective. Then we proudly headed to Bénin.

Medical clinic in Kolli where over 1200 patients were treated.

Medical clinic in Kolli where over 1200 patients were treated. Photo credit : Nabil Chikh

We thoroughly enjoyed our experience overseas. We first spent two weeks in Cotonou, the economic capital, where we each worked in different departments of two urban hospital. The specialties visited included: Emergency, Traumatology, Dermatology, Obstetrics, Hematology and Pediatrics. Every Friday we would go to a rural clinic in Ladji and teach courses on neonatal resuscitation and post-partum hemorrhage management. The third week was spent in the remote village of Kolli. We arrived on the Sunday to set up the clinic and medications. While sleeping on the roof of our house, cooled by a faint breeze, I could hear people trickling in throughout the night. The next morning, I looked at the street and saw hundreds of people waiting. This is when I truly realized the importance of our work for the local communities.

They are aware that we come in November, and they are looking forward to it.  Our team of five medical students, one Internal Medicine resident, three physicians, two nurses and three pharmacists managed to treat over 1100 patients. Of course, this would not have been possible without the assistance of members of the community, acting as translators and helping with directing flow. The clinic ran like a well-oiled machine. My most poignant moment was with a little eight-year-old girl that weighed as much as a one-year-old. I saw the impact that socio-economic status, culture and knowledge of proper nutrition can have on an otherwise healthy child. That week was exhausting with its long days ending with further teaching and updates on remaining medications, but it was the highlight of my medical school journey.

Part of the village Ladji is over water, part is over land. Ladji is where we taught midwives about neonatal resuscitation and post-partum hemorrhage control.

Part of the village Ladji is over water, part is over land. Ladji is where we taught midwives about neonatal resuscitation and post-partum hemorrhage control. Photo credit : Charlotte Roy

Finally, the elective ended on the beautiful campus of a catholic private hospital in Zinvié, where most doctors are priests and nurses are brothers. Once again, you could tell the impact of limited resources on the provided care. On countless occasions, I saw patients needing blood transfusions being turned down and referred to the capital, which is 80 minutes away. The time spent travelling there could make the difference between life or death. Ultimately, this elective allowed me to become a better physician by increasing my insight into the challenges of providing healthcare in global health initiatives but also within Canada, in northern communities. I look forward to my next adventure helping those in need.

Thanks to the generosity of donators and volunteers; this year’s Bénin Project was particularly successful. More professionals were involved, more medication was brought to Bénin and more patients were assessed than ever before. Thank you to the DFM for their continuous support.


InformationThe DFM Global Health Travel Bursary supports uOttawa learners to participate in Global Health initiatives. The deadline to apply is March 31Consider a donation to the fund and help future learners to have life-changing journeys like David.
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