After learning about Blue-Med Africa from her sister, a former volunteer at the organization, Deb Gakpo ’19 knew she wanted to intern at the same program. Founded in 2008, Blue-Med Africa is a developmental and humanitarian non-profit organization based in Ho, Ghana. As part of its internship program, volunteers are given the opportunity to work alongside medical professionals in hospitals and clinics and learn about the health system in Ghana.
Though Blue-Med Africa offers valuable hands-on experience for any student interested in a medical career, Gakpo chose the program for a more personally significant reason. “I was drawn to this internship because, having been born in Ghana, I love my mother land, but I also recognize that our health care sector is challenged. Most of my family is still in Ghana, so it is important for me to understand and experience the type of care available to them,” she said.
As a volunteer, Gakpo spends a good deal of time interacting with patients and forging important person-to-person connections with her fellow Ghanaians. To her, creating these interpersonal relations is as important as shadowing nurses and doctors in the hospital.
Majors: Biology & Dance and Movement Studies
Hometown: Orange, N.J.
High School: Abby Kelley Foster Charter Public School
Gakpo spends approximately 3-4 days per week in a teaching hospital shadowing medical staff. Each week, volunteers are able to choose a different department to shadow from a vast range of available divisions, including maternity, pediatric, dental, surgical, and more.
On days when she does not go to the hospital, Gakpo and the other volunteers go on outreaches either in the community or to schools. In a school outreach setting, Gakpo teaches the children about dental and personal hygiene, gives out toothbrushes and toothpaste and dresses any wounds the children may have. In a community outreach setting, under the supervision of a trained staff, Gakpo checks vitals (weight, heart rate, BMI) and addresses patients’ health concerns.
Through her work at Blue-Med Africa, Gakpo has gained a deeper understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the Ghanaian heath care system, helpful experience for her future in medicine. “I hope to eventually return to Ghana and work toward improving maternal and infant care here. The time this internship has given me to observe how medicine is practiced in these departments in particular has been invaluable,” said Gakpo.