Anneka Hooft had just finished residency as a pediatrician when she moved to Malawi to teach and train students at the College of Medicine (COM) in Blantyre. We recently spoke with Anneka to reflect on her year as a volunteer educator, what she passed on to her students, and what she learned from her time in Malawi.
Why did you decide to apply for GHSP?
I wanted to be a part of something that would have a lasting impact. There are so many opportunities to provide care in low resource settings, and I worked clinically abroad, but I wanted to be sure that my work could be part of something larger. I was drawn to the idea of working with students and training future providers in the local context of where they would work.
What did your work entail during your time at COM?
When I began working there, I learned that staff at the hospital can change frequently. Whether leaving for additional training, to conduct research, or to teach, it was always shifting and it was difficult at times to find my place. Initially, I was doing mostly clinical work and some teaching at the bedside. At that time, I would round the wards with the registrars and students. I would also oversee the procedures that they performed. Later in the year, I started to find more opportunities for teaching. The students were eager to learn and came to me with requests to learn about particular topics.
What event or moment during your year makes you feel proud?
I really loved working with the students. And it felt like it all culminated on my last day there. They were so excited to round together that morning and really learn. They greeted me with such an enthusiasm for learning, to take all the information in and then return to their district health centers to pass this knowledge on.
From your perspective, what is the biggest challenge facing pediatric care in Malawi?
I would say that the biggest challenge is guaranteeing and encouraging timely access of care. So many of the children I would see were very sick, and it was often because they were brought to the hospital too late. Parents frequently don’t know where or when to bring their child for care or don’t have the money or transportation to make it to a healthcare facility. So often, it’s too late. And the hospital has very little resources – making it especially difficult to treat children who come in so late and already so sick. They go hand in hand. That’s a very difficult thing to process, because sometimes it feels like there is very little that can be done about it.
What did you learn while in Malawi that you have brought back to your work in the United States?
When I first arrived in Malawi, I was feeling pretty burned out from my U.S. residency. And working and living in Malawi was an incredible amount of work — but I learned so much. I feel like now I can make decisions with less information when needed, and rely more on my clinical judgement rather than just on so many tests. I am also much more grateful to have those tests and resources when I do need them to make decisions.
It has also informed what I would like to do in the future. I would like to continue working in ways that can improve communities’ access to care. My time in Malawi really has help shape my future in medicine.