Sara O'Donnell

Queens University

Tanzania Physiotherapy Elective

I’ve always wanted to work overseas, but until I found out about Elective International I didn’t think I’d get the chance. I was about to enter my final year and you need to do a two-month elective. I was in the library googling and came across this amazing program and thought, oh well, it’s worth a try. And I’m so glad I did. It’s the best experience of my life so far.

Right as soon as I contacted them the staff at EI staff were really good about helping me pick the right placement. I was expecting them to be a bit dodgy but they were really pleasant, and well-informed and knew what they were on about. They helped me pick the right elective, and sorted out the scheduling. Not in a pushy way either. They took my suggestions, told me what would work and what wouldn’t.


When I arrived at the airport in Dar Es Salaam I was met by Tom, who was nice and just really helpful, we drove into town and he helped me get settled into the house. It’s a big place with a terrace where we would have these awesome Tanzanian-style barbeques (nyama choma it’s called).


Physiotherapy practice in the local system is quite a challenge mainly because there’s not a lot of secondary care after patients leave the hospital. There are limited resources in the hospital environment and so most of the time it’s a real test to give the patient initial care. A lot of the patients I saw were people who came into the hospital for a different treatment but would then talk about this other problem with their back or neck, etc. A lot of the cases I dealt with were chronic cases that never really got any attention in the first place. So that was kind of tough to deal with at first. You get to see what local staff go through in terms of working with a few resources. It definitely makes me appreciate the NHS more. I had a lot of questions and the staff was really good about answering them, though I think I drove them a bit crazy! They were incredibly supportive and made me feel like part of the team.


My experience in Tanzania really opened my mind to what practicing physiotherapy is about. I’ve gained a lot of insight and experience I believe is going to positively affect the way I practice physiotherapy. I really recommend EI if you’re looking for an elective placement that makes you better, not just as a medical practitioner but as a person. You won’t regret it.