The "Working in Ghana" Project


[Dr. Seidu, a man in his mid-fifties, is one of the first-generation university graduates in northern Ghana. Philip Awekeya, our interviewer, reports that Dr. Seidu was one of the first Northerners to graduate from the University of Ghana Medical School, nearly three decades ago. Dr. Seidu lives with his wife and one of his three children in a spacious government bungalow in a regional capital of northern Ghana.]

I am married to a graduate who currently heads a secondary school. We have three children, all of whom are in advanced stages on the academic ladder.

As a medical doctor, a family head, and one of the prominent figures in the neighborhood, I always make it a point to wake up quite early, usually at about 5:00 a.m. Immediately I get up from bed. I first move out to check the animals' pen, the chicken coops and the surroundings of the bungalow to find out whether the animals and the birds are in good condition or need the attention of a veterinary officer. After I have inspected them, I return to the bedroom to join my wife in saying our morning prayers and reading a few lessons from the Holy Bible.

When we finish with our morning reflections, I take a hard broom and sweep the surrounding of my residence, gather the rubbish in one or two heaps and burn it. People in the neighborhood wonder why I, a medical officer, should sweep and burn rubbish instead of making use of a laborer. My answer to them is, "I must show a good example to you people that every person must learn to keep his/her surroundings clean instead of waiting for someone else to do it." I also often give advice and counseling to some community members who call on me in the morning before I leave the house for duty at the hospital.

At exactly 8:00 a.m., I leave the bungalow for the hospital, which is within walking distance. I usually do not take breakfast before going to work. I eat once a day, so such things like taking tea or coffee do not interrupt me. My main meal is taken at supper; I usually have the local fare, accompanied with well-prepared green vegetable groundnut soup. Since I do not spend time taking breakfast, it affords me the chance to report to work promptly to render services to all those in need.

When I report to the hospital I go straight to the children's ward where I have ward rounds. I discharge patients whose condition has improved. I also sign death certificates to enable relatives of patients who died the previous night to collect their bodies from the mortuary. And I review treatment plans for patients who are not responding well. Sometimes I am put on call, which means that I report to work at 8:00 a.m. and stay on duty for 24 hours.

Besides attending to hospitalized patients, I also attend to patients who call at the Outpatient Department. For such people I normally prescribe drugs that must be bought at the hospital dispensary or at the pharmacies in town. Those whose condition appears serious enough to require prompt and close attention, I have admitted to the hospital.

I also teach courses on control of diarrhea and on respiratory problems to nurses in training at the Nurses College. On weekends, I also find time to visit my farms to supervise the farm laborers.

There are lots of risks involved in the performance of my duties. For instance I stand the risk of getting all sorts of infection from patients suffering from such deadly diseases as yaws, tuberculosis, and leprosy. However with the help of my training I know the precautions to take.

As for availability of equipment and materials in my work place, I am afraid the situation is far from good. We lack a well-equipped large modern theater for carrying out surgical operations on two or more patients at the same time. Often certain drugs cannot be readily obtained by patients, either because the drugs are not available at the hospital dispensary or at the pharmacies in town, or because the patients simply can't raise the money promptly to purchase them, resulting in a delay in treatment. This leads to the deaths of some patients.

No honest physician working in a larger hospital such as mine can claim that his/her performance is good, excellent, or poor. The point is that in medicine, teamwork is the common practice. I, for instance, consult my colleagues in cases which I find it difficult to handle. In a similar vein, I am also consulted by my fellow medical officers.

Since I regard the other medical officers as working colleagues, I respect, cooperate and relate well with them. I even listen to the views and suggestions of new medical officers. No one can claim a monopoly over knowledge and skills in medicine because the whole process is based on teamwork. I also relate well with the nurses who work under me in the ward and in the outpatient department. I never lord it over anyone in the hospital. I learned in medical school I should be humble and respectful of my bosses, colleagues, and the general public. I have grown to realize that anyone with average intelligence who is ready to work hard at school is capable of reading medicine. There is no reason for me to puff up my shoulders just because I happened to graduate in medicine. And the fact that I am one of the first persons from northern Ghana to become a physician simply means that I should show a good example of how a medical doctor should behave. That is to say, I must constantly be seen to keep my immediate environment clean, be very neat in appearance, hard working and respectful to all.

I must admit that the salary and service conditions awarded medical doctors in this country are very good. On the whole, we are about the top paid civil servants in Ghana. In addition we are given sufficient weekly allocation of fuel. We also enjoy tax-free, well-furnished accommodations which other civil servants do not. In spite of these good conditions, some of my colleagues agitate for more pay and improved service conditions for medical doctors working in the public sector. Personally, I feel it is not necessary because we doctors are not the only workers in Ghana. Besides, the profession is supposed to be a sacrificial one and not a gold mine.

There are many opportunities for any man or lady who is hard working to rise to the top professional positions within the medical service. For example, one can either choose the clinical path by specializing in surgery or pathology, and from that specialty, rise to the position of consultant. Or one can remain as a general practitioner and rise through the grades of Medical Officer, Senior Medical Officer, Principal Medical Officer to Director of Medical Services. I like the opportunities in the medical services. Unlike in the private sector where I tried my hand some years ago, in the public service one's income is secured so long as you report for work. In the private sector, one is likely to have to close the clinic because drugs and equipment are so expensive. If you charge your patients a lot in order to meet the cost of drugs and other items, most of them run away and leave your clinic empty. Such is not the case with the public health service system. Above all, in the Ministry of Health one stands the chance of getting a car loan or a housing loan, whereas in private practice it is not very easy to come by such opportunities that go a long way in enhancing one's social status.

Some years back I belonged to many associations, but in recent times, I belong only to the Ghana Medical Association. I attend its meetings and pay my annual dues regularly and promptly. Though I am a Christian, I attend only Sunday service. I practice my Christian faith by being respectful, kind, and ready to serve patients and my community members faithfully. I am convinced that by living according to Christ's teachings is a hundred times better than belonging to several societies just for social purposes.

On the whole, my family, relatives, and fellow villagers are happy and proud of me because I belong to a respectable profession. Most of them listen to my advice and consult me regularly on many issues, ranging from health, social matters, and politics. I am happy that I studied medicine in the university because I am offering useful services to a large sector of the community as well as to my family, relatives, and friends. Though I can make money through the work I do, I have chosen to offer pure gratis service to all those who call on me at home or at the hospital. Besides, I enjoy the social recognition accorded to medical doctors. I am one of the top opinion leaders in my village. Nothing happens there without the blessing or consent of me and a few others.

I must end this short account of my work life by calling on youth to start life by being sincere, hard working, and respectful to all. They must put aside the idea of making money within the twinkle of an eye. They should rather strive to build a good image for themselves. There is no point rushing to make money at the early stages of one's life without first and foremost carving out a good name for themselves. Workers must try to build a reputation for themselves. If they do, the good things of life will naturally flow in as they advance in age.