By Carrie Anderson
Hi all! I am checking in from my summer rotation at Groote Schuur hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for almost six weeks already. Doing an international summer rotation was on my mind from day one of the program and it often feels surreal to actually be here.
I originally pursued this opportunity because I wanted to experience genetic counseling in a country with a culture different from my own. South Africa is the perfect place for that, especially here in Cape Town. The population is truly a melting pot, with people of many different origins and 11 official languages. This creates some interesting challenges for counselors, as these languages often lack straightforward words to describe genetic concepts and very few genetic counselors speak African languages.
Because genetic counselors in South Africa don’t typically specialize, this is a general rotation in which I’m seeing a mix of prenatal, pediatric, adult, and cancer cases. Rather than setting up individualized appointment times, patients are referred to clinics in blocks of time and seen on a first-come, first-serve basis. While the genetic testing options are more limited here, the actual counseling sessions are extremely similar to what we’d see at in the US. Unfortunately, GCs in South Africa struggle with limited employment opportunities. After graduating, it’s often up to the counselor to create their own job and market their services in the private healthcare sector.
One benefit to this rotation that I did not anticipate is its connection to a genetic counseling program. My home base here during the day is in the student office, with eight other students and interns. I sit in on their clinical meetings, journal club, and case conference. I’ve learned that the content of the education here is very similar to the USA, though the setup is a little different. The most blatant example of this is that the program here is three years rather than two, because students are required to do an “internship” year after completing the master’s degree.
On a personal note, I’m so glad to be connected with other students here. I was a little nervous I’d be lonely in Cape Town without knowing anyone in the city beforehand, but the students here have been so welcoming. I stay with one student, Kelly, in her house and we drive together to clinic every day (meaning, Kelly drives me because I’m too scared to try driving on the other side of the road). The other students here have also graciously volunteered to drive me across town to different clinics and even hosted a “braai” (South African barbecue) in my honor.
My classmates will remember that earlier this year I was worried about a water crisis here in Cape Town. This area of the country is in the midst of an extreme drought, and at one point was predicted to run out of water in June (i.e. the date of my arrival). Thankfully, this “Day Zero” has been delayed and it has rained a lot since I’ve been here. Still, life is a little different as everyone is restricted to 50-liters of water a day. This means 2-minute showers and one toilet flush per day, while being ultra conscious about doing dishes and laundry. This quickly became my new normal but the experience has really opened my eyes to the sheer amount of water we consume daily.