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Student Life

A Zimbabwe elective experience

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 01 July 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:0007243
  1. Iain McNamara, final year medical student1
  1. 1Magdalen College, University of Oxford

Iain McNamara reports on his elective in Zimbabwe, where involvement in a war, an economy in crisis, and doctors' strikes ensured a memorable experience.

As I hauled my travel-weary body, along with its grotesquely tied burden of baggage, through the main entrance of Harare railway station, the news vendor saw me coming. “How are you?” he bellowed cheerfully - the universal Zimbabwean greeting which I was to come to know well. “Just arrived,” I replied chirpily. He roared with delight as he took my money in exchange for a copy of the Zimbabwe Standard, and wished me a safe journey. The train carrying me to my 10 week elective post in Bulawayo Central Hospital trundled with grim determination through the inky blackness of the African night. With equally grim determination, I wedged myself into the rock-hard corner seat of the elderly railway carriage. I had, at last, been able to untie from my body the 10 kg of stoma bags that I was carrying out from the UK. They had been vigorously pummelled into an uncomfortable and ludicrous looking makeshift cushion under me.

A supporter of the Movement for Democratic Change with Zimbabwean flag facepaint (AP PHOTO/DAVE THOMSON)

Ignoring the quizzical looks of my fellow passengers, I unfolded my newspaper. It was two weeks out of date. So that's why the news vendor had found our little transaction so amusing. The other surprise that the ?Zimbabwe Standard had in store for me was a prominent front page headline: Junior Doctors Still on Strike.

Twenty-four hours later, I was working in Bulawayo Central Hospital. It was then that I realised the full significance of the newspaper headline: I was a junior doctor in Zimbabwe. I had spent the previous two years under training in the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford. Every stage …

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