Sonia's story: Sharing medical knowledge in Africa 

Sonia in Zambia

Alumna Dr Sonia Akrimi (Medicine, 2009) is an anaesthesia specialist in her fifth year of training.

She returned to King’s in 2014 to begin a master’s in Clinical Education. She is passionate about global healthcare, and spent the last year in Africa as a Senior Fellow with the Zambia Anaesthesia Development Program (ZADP).

We caught up with Sonia to discover the new perspectives she has gained from her time spent improving medical care in Zambia.

Why did you choose to volunteer in Zambia?

I’ve always been interested in global health, particularly the training of healthcare professionals in low-resource countries. In August 2016, I was recruited by the ZADP for a placement in Zambia. It was due to last six months, but I actually stayed for a full year. Education of local doctors is a central part of ZADP’s work.

What did you do during your volunteering?

We trained anaesthetists in Zambia, not only in the clinical aspects but also in governance, teaching and leadership. The aim is to give local anaesthetists the skills they need to develop anaesthesia across Zambia themselves. Anaesthetists are vital in ensuring that operations can be carried out in as safe and pain-free a way as possible.

Sonia (second from left) with colleagues in Zambia 

I oversaw the academic programme, teaching trainees, and exam preparation, as well as providing teaching and clinical supervision in theatre and the Intensive Care Unit.

And I led ZADP’s national anaesthesia recruitment drive, which this year has seen the largest number of applicants since the programme started in 2011 – a sign that doctors in Zambia are learning about the role of the anaesthetist and are keen to help develop the specialty.

What was life like in Zambia?

I spent the year living in Lusaka, the capital city, and I found that Zambia is a very social place. There were many people to meet, both Zambians as well as other International workers and volunteers.

Sonia (third from right) with colleagues and friends in Zambia 

The safari experiences are excellent and I managed quite a few trips. I also saw the annual bat migration from Kasanka National Park, which is the largest mammalian migration in the world! And then of course there was the famous Victoria Falls, the world’s largest sheet of falling water.

How would you describe your time at King’s?

King’s gave me my undergraduate training, started my career and sparked my interest in global health. While I was an undergraduate, I founded the charity SHINE Mentoring with two others, which I continue to govern as a Trustee. The university and Students’ Union were very supportive of this. I feel that it has been the experience of running this charity that has mostly equipped me for the challenges in Zambia.

What are your words of wisdom for other travellers?

I think very few people have volunteered or worked abroad and ended up regretting it. Personally, I think the experience you gain will benefit you, both in employability and generally in life. I would advise people to really look around at the opportunities and to consider what it is you want to gain from it.

If you want to volunteer abroad, there are lots of grants available for financial support. I gratefully received grants to support me while in Zambia, including from the Tropical Health & Education Trust and from the King’s Student Opportunity Fund.

Find more information about the Student Opportunity Fund and how it can enhance the educational experience of King's students.