Research Beginnings


On my SIT abroad program, our schedule and classes are focused around building up our final independent study project (ISP).  We can choose from any topic that we like, and it’s been hard to narrow it down! Everyday we have speakers from the local university, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, or from health leaders around South Africa. Coming into the program, my original idea was to compare the rates of HIV transmission from mother to child in private versus public clinics.  However, after discussing the idea with my Academic Director, completing primary research about that topic in such a short amount of time is not realistic.  Also, from discussing health issues with local South Africans and observing health in my homestay, there are so many other cool topics to choose from!

In one of our classes, our lecturer was discussing emergency medicine in South Africa. As a certified EMT-B, I listened intently.  He said “everyone is really critical of ambulances,” and as to their reliability, it boils down to questions of will the ambulance come? Will it not come? When will it come? What happens if the available ambulances don’t work? What if road conditions in rural areas become unfit for driving? All of those seemed very relevant questions to consider.  These ultimately become questions of access, which I think would be really great to study for my independent study project. Plus, I’m curious to talk to some South African EMT’s! I’ve talked to my Academic Director and it’s a large possibility that I can do ride-alongs in the local Durban ambulances.  That way I can get perspectives on care from the EMT’s firsthand.

As part of our SIT curriculum, we created and conducted Family Health Surveys for our homestays. We are currently staying in Cato Manor, a lower income (relative to America) area in the outskirts of Durban.  Interviewing them to get their perspectives on ambulatory care was very interesting.  From their accounts, emergency care in South Africa is very hit-or-miss.  One of my family members said that for children, the ambulances arrive very quickly, but for older people, they come very slowly. I’d be interested to investigate the triage system in the public emergency services systems, especially because public EMS here is often under-resourced and understaffed.

The main challenge I will have in gathering data for my ISP will be the language barrier.  We are taking Introductory Zulu, the primary language of KwaZulu-Natal, and although we can speak a little bit, it’s hard to conduct interviews with potential miscommunications. SIT is preparing us for this challenge, however, with our immersions in Zulu-speaking homestays. Overall, I’m excited to keep researching and investigating my research project while enjoying my time in South Africa.

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