A life-changing experience

home slide

Following a visit of officials from Cambridge-Africa to the Uganda Cancer Institute in the wake of growing interests to re-define Global Health, the alarmingly low number of oncologists and haematologists as compared to patients at the institute triggered a discussion that revealed that there was low exposure of student doctors and interest in oncology. In a bold move to change this, officials from Cambridge-Africa proposed an exchange program partnership between Makerere University College of Health Sciences and the University of Cambridge for 2 undergraduate medical students in their clinical years who had interests in pursuing a career in oncology and haematology. The selection criteria was merit based and I am humbled to be one of the 2 students who were given this life changing opportunity to study the noble and life saving specialities at Cambridge University.

Dr. Mark Robinson (left), Abraham, Ferguson & Dr. Martin Besser

On 18th June, 2022, my colleague Ferguson Natukunda and I arrived at Heathrow Airport. I was welcomed through the tall majestic solid walls of Cambridge and vast beautiful green plains with drizzles and relatively low temperatures. Ms. Cassandra Mura, the coordinator of visiting electives students introduced me to Dr. Martin Besser, our supervisor in the Haematology rotation who gave us a tour around Addenbrooke’s Hospital which was a labyrinth. He introduced us to the consultants, registrars and nurses in the haematology department who warmly welcomed us during the clinical rotation. He also guided us in making a timetable for attending clinics, ward rounds and extra teachings that comprised of both theoretical and practical morphology sessions in the laboratories. I am grateful to Dr. Mark Robinson, Dr. Will Thomas, Prof. Theodora Foukaneli and Dr. Pedro for these educative sessions.

I appreciated novo management modalities for both malignant and non malignant haematology diseases. I also got an opportunity to study in a fully equipped health system and the wonderful NHS that offers the best treatment available to all UK citizens irrespective of their financial backgrounds. I appreciated the Epics System, an electronic records keeping system, that ensures access to all patient’s medical history by their health care providers. The multidisciplinary team (MDT) sessions ensured that the best decisions were made by the health care workers for the patients. I also experienced the technology of flow cytometry, studying in a learning environment simulated by programming a £70,000 robotic mannequin at the Royal Papworth Hospital.

In the 4th to 6th weeks, Ferguson and I undertook the oncology rotation under the supervision of Dr. Fiona Harris. I attended the oncology clinics for breast, lung and colorectal cancer. I also attended the prostate cancer, neuro-oncology and sarcoma clinics. I had a lot to learn from the paediatric oncology, patient radiotherapy preparation and chemotherapy administration clinics. I had the opportunity to discuss with Professor Emeritus Helena Earl about how Ferguson and I could contribute to significant programs such as the Lancet Commission’s research in the global management of breast cancer especially in Sub-Saharan Africa countries. I observed how support groups such as the Macmillan Cancer Support and the Maggie’s were very uplifting to patients, an easily transferrable idea to the Ugandan setting that I’m aspiring to kickstart there. I cannot forget to highlight the fundamental role of the palliative care team in improving cancer patients’ quality of life. The rotation not only grew my already existing desire to pursue a career in oncology and haematology but also helped me appreciate the impact of research in transforming the lives of apprehensive patients.

On the social side, Ferguson and I were glad to meet and interact with the other visiting electives students.

With fellow elective students, from left: Kunalika (Singapore), Leona (Switzerland), Leandra (Germany), Andrew (Hong Kong), Deni (Canada), Ferguson & Abraham and Lucas (Austria)

Together with this team we had fun activities such as brunch in the Jesus Green Park , the King Leah show, the popular jazz music sessions in the Cambridge botanical gardens and the beautiful Colleges of Cambridge University which created memorable moments. We also punted on River Cam and beat the cultural shock as a team. The summer weather was good except for 2 days in July where the UK unfortunately suffered record high temperatures that came as a reminder for me to play my part in the fight against climate change crisis.

Remarkable to note was the good coincidence that the Cambridge-Africa Day happened during our placement’s period where I was delighted to meet officials from Cambridge-Africa. I extend my heartfelt thanks to our benefactors ; Cambridge-Africa and the Makerere University College of Health Sciences for this wonderful learning experience and exposure. I humbly pray that these exchange partnerships are strengthened to increase exposure of other learners. I also thank Dr. Evelyn Brealey , the Director of Cambridge Global Health Partnerships (CGHP) and Fiona Elliot who connected us to the Intensive Care Unit, Obstetrics and Gyneacology and Microbiology departments. I thank Ms. Susan Nassaka ,the coordinator of this program at Makerere University for her support .

During my departure flight for Uganda at the end of my placement, I watched a movie entitled “Supa Modo” that was another touching reminder of my debt to the world in the fight against Cancer.

by  Abraham Matovu Ddungu