It is 7am in Kuntanase, Ghana and the sun has been up for several hours already. I am sitting in my host family’s living room quietly and eagerly anticipating the first day of our internship with the Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training (MHIRT) Program and the Ghana Health Service. I have been itching, anxious, and reflective in starting work since we arrived in Ghana two weeks ago. Since then we have navigated unfamiliar cities, attended a lively Mother’s Day church service, experienced the unwavering heat and unpredictable rain of the region, celebrate the life and death at a traditional funeral service, found Chicago-style burgers and ribs, visited a historic slave castle, and have learned to go with the flow. While we have had an adventurous two weeks in Ghana, our adventure truly begins today.
MHIRT sponsored two projects in Ghana through the University of Michigan this year. My decision to apply came from many mindsets: this was a new research experience for me, outside of the wet lab and into a public health project; this was another opportunity to experience the world, in a place that not many see; this was a chance to extend my reach to pre-natal health work; and this was a challenge to be abroad for three months, twice as long as I’ve ever been. Upon being excepted, I was excited at the prospect of the infant mortality project, concepts and designs I’d only been familiar with through my public health classes. Our meetings throughout the semester made me both nervous and excited (much as I am feeling right now). Among the 10 undergraduate students working in Ghana, my project partner and I are working in a district hospital by Bosumtwe in a case-control study of the effectiveness of fetal monitoring devices on infant mortality outcomes. This project has excited for several years through different hospitals in the region, so this is an extension of the progress that has already been made. From my understanding, this project will begin with a retrospective study and end with an implementation analysis to produce a cross-sectional report on the effectiveness of fetal monitoring devices as a preventive measure in maternal and infant care.
Though this project is outside my declared course of study, I hope this project and experience will help determine my path after graduation next year: will I do work like this before heading to graduate school? Will I continue to a graduate school in public health or another field? Is this kind of research for me, am I better at the bench, or can I pursue both? In the course of this project, I keep my goals in mind: to do good research, to experience the Ashanti region and immerse myself with my host family, and to take every opportunity that presents itself to me. I am also aware of the number of challenges I will face (and have already faced): frustration over delays or the inherent patience needed with research, cultural and language barriers, and potentially witnessing death for the first time. It will take balance between my hopes and fears to allow this experience to be truly rewarding.
I like to say that you get out what you put in; so here’s to putting in everything I can to having an experience of the lifetime here in Ghana.