St. John's Hospital, Mzuzu, Malawi


St. John's Hospital is a 215 bed Mission Hospital established in 1962 by the Catholic order sisters. It has a large catchment area including the town plus surrounding countryside. It has Male, Female, Paediatric, TB, Maternity, Premature Baby Unit and Nutrition Unit. The maternity unit delivers about 2000 babies a year. There is a small pharmacy, a laboratory providing basic microbiology and haematology, an X-ray department and an operating theatre.


Malawi is a landlocked country in sub-Saharan Africa with limited resources and a largely unskilled workforce. It has a population of 12 million people but one of the lowest life expectancies - 41 years - in the world. It relies almost entirely on agriculture but poor harvests often lead to food shortages and famine. Given all this, Malawi is well known as the "warm heart of Africa" with the friendliest people in all of Africa.


Medical Officer

Medical Experience:

The majority of hospital admissions relate to obstetrics, malaria, HIV/AIDS, bacterial pneumonias and trauma. Paediatric and obstetrics experience is useful since it is very busy with obstructed labours, Caesarean sections (up to 5 per day) and pre-eclampsia. Surgical cases include gynaecological procedures, strangulated hernias, bowel obstructions, trauma and orthopaedics.

Major duties:

  • Management of assigned specialty ward with daily ward rounds
  • Supervision and consultant role for junior staff (Clinical officer and Medical Assistants)
  • Daily attendance at outpatients (general)
  • Twice weekly attendance at outpatients for antenatal mothers referred from antenatal clinics - commonly requiring use of basic ultrasound for examination
  • Daily ward rounds of "private" 6 bed ward
  • Participation in elective major and minor surgery 3-4 / week
  • On call duties: 1-2 nights/week with one weekend/month to be available 24 hours.
  • Counselling of patients - often HIV related
  • Supervise and organise elective medical students
  • Expected duties in accordance with Catholic religion

Working hours:

8am-5pm with 1-2 hours off for lunch. After hours can be tough with 1-2 nights/week and one weekend/month on call. You are often called in mainly for obstetric emergencies.

Working req's:

  1. Medical Registration with Medical Council of Malawi
  2. Temporary Employment Permit (TEP)

Hospital staff:

Only one other medical doctor (in 2003) and five clinical officers (who all do Caesarean sections and minor surgery) and two medical assistants. Usually there are about 2-3 registered nurses with the rest being equivalent to enrolled nurses.


The official language of Malawi is English and Chichewa. Within the hospital, most staff speak fluent English and can interpret for you on ward rounds. However, in Mzuzu (northern Malawi), Chitumbuka is the local language and so it is worth knowing some common phrases.

Town facilities:

Mzuzu is 360km from the capital, Lilongwe. There is a regular coachline from Lilongwe and otherwise travel is fairly easy on frequent minibuses. St. John's Hospital is about 2km from town or a 15 minute walk. There is a post office, banks, small restaurants, pubs, supermarkets, many local markets, an internet caf (although quite slow and expensive) and pharmacies.


  • Nkhata Bay on Lake Malawi is the most beautiful and relaxing perfect weekend getaway!! It is an easy 1 and a half hour trip by minibus from Mzuzu and comfortable small bungalows overlooking the lake are available. You can do heaps of activities including scuba diving, snorkelling (see the unique Cichlid fish of Lake Malawi), canoe trips, fishing or just lying on the beach. NB: Schistosomiasis is officially in the lake so swim at own risk.
  • Vwaza Wildlife reserve is nearby with a good population of elephants, impala, hippos, kudos and birds.
  • Nyika National Park is in Northern Malawi with some beautiful scenery, good hiking and excellent bird watching.
  • Livingstonia, a historic missionary centre with great hiking opportunities and great views.
  • Lilongwe is 5-6 hours by bus and although not an interesting city, a great place for faster internet service, curio shopping, a large Shoprite supermarket and more diverse restaurants.

Volunteer Agency:

Australian Volunteers International (AVI)

My one year placement was arranged through Australian Volunteers International (AVI), however AVI are no longer sending doctors to Malawi as of 2005. There are other country placements for doctors though. AVI provided a pre-departure briefing, return airfares, insurance, living allowance and a resettlement grant.

Hospital contact:

St. John's Hospital
PO Box 18, Mzuzu
Tel (265) 332 299
If you would like to make contact, please email and we will pass your message on.

My contact details:

Dr. Michelle Yong
Medical Registrar, Royal Melbourne Hospital
If you would like to make contact, please email and we will pass your message on.