Training a new generation of doctors in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone has one health worker for every 5260 people, compared to the UK where there is one health worker for every 77 people. The effects of the dramatic shortfall in doctors, nurses and midwives are self-evident. In Sierra Leone, one in five children doesn’t reach their fifth birthday. Through VSO’s drive to help develop the country’s health services, volunteers like paediatrician Dr Shona Johnston are sharing life-saving skills with Sierra Leonean medical students. Foday Emmanuel Morovia is learning emergency procedures from Shona at Freetown Hospital.

I wanted to be a doctor when I was a boy, so I would be able to help my people.

 My father was a transport driver, running a sort of ambulance service in our village. Quite often he would end up helping people in need of urgent medical care because of the shortage of health centres near our village. The distances people travel from rural areas to see a doctor can be great. Growing up, I saw that if there were more doctors or health facilities available to people in villages, they could be seen quicker and less people would die. I thought it would be so much better if more of us are trained…so it made sense for me to be a doctor.

But it’s expensive to train to be a doctor here.

Luckily I was one of the top ten students with the best results in public examinations, so I was fortunate to be awarded a scholarship to enter medical school. It was like a dream come true; because my father wasn’t able to raise even one fourth of the money required for me to enter medical school. Now, as a medical student, I’m learning something unlike anything else in the world, and I’m learning a lot of new things from Dr Shona Johnston. Working with her has helped me realise how important it is to have passion for the work.  Dr Shona is very industrious; she has taught us many emergency medical procedures, like cardio-respiratory resuscitation.

Doing an ultrasound is something we normally only see performed by professionals trained abroad, but we have been introduced to it here by Dr Shona. She has taught us how to identify the heartbeat from the scan, and how to spot the liver. I am very confident that I could save a life just by using that technique, because of the way it was explained and demonstrated to us by Dr Shona.

After Dr Shona leaves...

I’ll be able to teach my skills to community health officers in rural areas, because this knowledge is transferable.

Even now, when fellow medical students miss out on learning from Dr Shona, I share the procedures I’ve learnt from her with colleagues. If you keep on practising and showing others, then I believe you’re able to do more and help other people do more too.

 You know, here in Sierra Leone, we don’t have much equipment compared with overseas. We have villages in Sierra Leone, like the village I come from…it’s one of the remotest villages in the country where there is no electricity. I want to return to my village to help my people. If I don’t have the skills to help them, I’ll be part of the problem rather than helping to solve the problem.

 I believe if I’m well trained, I’ll be able to go to my village, help my people and in so doing I'll be help reduce the infant mortality rate in our country.

Foday Morovia


Sierra Leone has a severe shortage of qualified medical staff to care for its young population, with one health worker for every 5260 people compared with one health worker per 77 people in the UK.


VSO volunteers like Dr Shona Johnston help increase the number of qualified health workers by equipping medical students like Foday with simple life-saving techniques.


Hospitals in Sierra Leone deliver better healthcare to remote communities and health system management is improved to boost numbers of patients seen and quality of care.

Sierra Leone Health

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