The day that announced the start of training dawned bright. As I sat by the Nile sipping a slightly rancid Nescafe coffee, I wondered what the day would bring. “Two hours wait for everyone,” I mused, with a grin. “Then the ceremony.” Rich would certainly have his hands full with trimming the teaching and incorporating sessions on development of a governance structure (there would be no time to teach on curriculum design and we had said as much to Oromo the night before). The usual worries abounded in my mind. Would anyone come? What happens if the power goes out? Would people like our teaching?
A cheerful Oromo stirred me out of my thoughts at 8 am. He had gone to the market and purchased some pads and pens so that the others could make notes. I asked him how he was. “Happy.” he replied. “We are ready!”
By 8.30am the first consultants arrived. I had known many of these people from my previous stays in South Sudan and our greetings were those of friends who had been reunited. They all asked after Clare and I was greeted with a variety of handshakes and congratulations when they found out that she was pregnant. Perhaps the best remark was one of the Obstetricians who said “Attwood the Kawajir (white woman in Arabic) is pregnant. She will be giving birth to ‘Littlewood’!”
At 9.30am everyone had arrived and I was glad to be proved wrong in my timings. Half an hour later the ceremony began. It lasted close to an hour with speeches from Oromo, Tim, The Undersecetary, The Minister of Health and the President of the World Health Organisation (WHO). As promised the press were present.
The next three days were occupied with teaching. We covered a variety of subjects such as qualities of a good doctors, adult learning theories, roles of educational supervisors, and dealing with under-performing trainees. We talked about assessments and had practical sessions of teaching. The feedback we received was spectacular; everyone enjoyed the teaching and felt that they were learning new things about medical education. Rich summed it up best: “Over the years I have taught many doctors but this group has been the most rewarding group I have ever taught.” I think he fell in love with South Sudan.
On Wednesday afternoon we discussed setting up a postgraduate training board. By the end of the afternoon, there was a unanimous decision that a College of Physicians and Surgeons should be set up in South Sudan and all consultants in the room were going to become members. Furthermore, it was agreed that postgraduate training should commence in March 2013, in time for the new intake of trainees. The Undersecretary arrived at 4pm and the decisions were presented to him. He pledged his full support and said that he would do his utmost to railroad the motion through parliament and pass this as a new law. The mood in the room was electrifying.
That evening there was another ceremony that all doctors of JTH were invited to attend. During the ceremony certificates were awarded and much merriment was had by all. The next day the consultants at JTH surprised us by organising a Nile cruise on one of the boats as a way of saying thank you. After this was a delightful breakfast and a few meetings with the Ministry and the Dean of the College of Medicine. It was then time for us to go board the plane.
As the plane left the runway and took to the skies, I reflected on the past week. What had started off as a ‘Train the Trainer’ visit had transformed into something much greater. Postgraduate medical training was beginning in March. A College with membership going to be set up. The consultants hearts were set and there would be no changing the direction. I had witnessed history in the making for healthcare in South Sudan.
I was also lucky enough to know the South Sudanese Consultants who would become the fathers of medical education.