Ghana Surgical Rotation Means a Return to Home Country for Physician Assistant Student

| Student Life

Benedicta Pongo works in a clinic in Ghana.

When she entered Trevecca’s physician assistant program, half a world away from the place where she was raised, part of Benedicta Pongo’s motivation was the scarcity of medical care in places like her home country of Ghana. Affordability, accessibility and limited resources are major challenges in that part of West Africa, and one of her long-term goals is to return there and start a practice.

Thanks to an international rotation opportunity that was available to Pongo as a Trevecca PA student, she started making an impact close to home sooner than she might have expected. 

“Being able to go back to Ghana and give a part of myself and part of all that I've learned was a beautiful opportunity,” she said. “There’s a huge gap with the quality of care and access to it. I want to try and break through those barriers and offer help.”

2023-BLOG-PHOTO-BenedictaPongo-WEB-v02Pongo grew up in the southern part of Ghana and attended college there, graduating with her bachelor’s in 2006. Years later, after moving to the U.S. and starting a family, she decided to continue her education and pursue a physician assistant degree. She was accepted in Trevecca’s PA program and began classes in May 2021. 

Just a few months into the program, she lost her father. It was then that she learned about the type of environment she had become part of at Trevecca. She says the TNU community felt like a family through her loss and as she returned to Ghana for the funeral.

“The faculty was amazing, and everybody was supportive. I got emails and cards, and everybody checked on me. From day one until now, I've never felt alone,” Pongo said.
Earlier this year she was offered the chance to complete an international rotation. Her options for destinations also included Peru and Swaziland, but she chose to go back to her home country of Ghana––although her surgical rotation was set in the northern part of the country, at Baptist Medical Centre in Nalerigu, Ghana, which has a significant difference in culture compared with the southern region of the country where Pongo is from.
“There were times that I felt like a stranger because of the cultural diversity, it was so different to me. The language, food and culture were all different,” Pongo said.

Her responsibilities at the medical center included using bedside ultrasonography to diagnose medical conditions, performing assisting duties in the OR,  giving physical exams and formulating assessments on patients. Her rotation was marked by hands-on experience that furthered her passion for her career.

“I learned to make the most of whatever resources were available to make patient care and outcomes better,” Pongo said. “I also gained valuable insight into using  limited resources judiciously.” 
Along with the practical learning and medical insight, Pongo gained more perspective from the rotation experience.

“As a means of expanding one’s view on healthcare disparities and deliveries across the world, I think every student who has the opportunity to experience this kind of rotation should do it,” Pongo said.

The skills she learned in Ghana continued to help her as she completed her internal medicine, general surgery and pediatric rotations back in the U.S. She graduated from the PA program this August.
“Trevecca has helped me in so many ways. It’s made me a better person and helped me realize my dream,” Pongo said. “It's been a beautiful gateway into that next step in my career.”

She’s hopeful that her path will eventually lead back to Ghana, where her skills and experience as a physician assistant would make her a much-needed asset to the people of her home country.