A Physician in Freetown

By Dr Terry Gibson, Volunteer Consultant Physician at Connaught Hospital

I joined the KSLP team in Freetown in April and Connaught Hospital has become my place of work and something of a home. My flat inside the duty house on the hospital grounds is where I sleep, and lets me see how the hospital functions after hours. Being right next door to the mortuary means the trundling mortuary trolley, followed by the sound of grieving relatives is a regular disturbance at night.

I arrived without a remit but with a shared expectation that through my long experience of acute and general internal medicine at Guy’s and St.Thomas’ I would be able to contribute to patient care, set standards for myself and act as a role model for house officers and students. That is precisely how it has evolved.

During the first week I was asked to share duties with one of the other three general physicians. On the first round together he excused himself to attend a meeting and asked me to carry on. For six weeks thereafter I continued in his place, performing daily rounds, one in three on call and a diabetic/general medicine clinic. When he returned I assumed charge of my own team so now there are four general physicians sharing the task.

Each team includes a consultant and a minimum of two house physicians who have been qualified for one or two years and shoulder responsibilities well beyond their competence. For this reason I perform regular daily rounds and a slow survey on Sundays. If on call for a long weekend I conduct rounds throughout the weekends. Dedicated training procedures are limited. I regularly perform lumbar punctures and other invasive procedures, teaching as I go. Apparently despite the large number of unconscious HIV admissions lumbar punctures are rarely performed. Thus I have set one clinical standard in motion.

A weekly clinical meeting for medicine with cases of interest or of educational value is now a regular feature of the house physicians’ timetable. My colleagues on the King’s team had already launched this idea, but the arrival of a Guy’s and St. Thomas’ physician on the wards gave the meetings a lot more impetus. It has also acted as a forum for the other consultant physicians who rarely meet but now contribute to the clinical meeting as well as engaging in a separate gathering to discuss business issues. Recently the focus has been on improving the performance of the ICU.

My outpatient session has been connected into a rheumatology/GIM clinic. The number of rheumatic referrals so far has been small. The clinic is supported by two house physicians who have learned how to aspirate joints and examine the fluids under a microscope. Whether I can emulate my time as a visiting professor in Pakistan where I started the rheumatology service in Karachi that flourished 20 years later I cannot say, we shall see.

In the meantime the support I’ve received from the King’s team and the established physicians here has been nothing but positive. All things are possible and I am optimistic about the likelihood of leaving some sort of legacy behind.