By Judith Lee MACN (Undergraduate)
I was part of a group of third-year nursing students in a recent overseas clinical placement in Port Vila, Vanuatu. The aim of this placement was to improve our clinical skills, and increase our understanding of community nursing. It was during this placement that I witnessed a baby being born and saw the look on the parents’ faces when they held their child for the first time. It was this joy in interpersonal connection that reminded me of the reason I chose nursing.
Vanuatu is an island nation at the same latitude as Cairns, approximately four hours east of Sydney by flight. It was here that we saw nurses fulfil roles usually performed by other specialised professions in metro Australia. Nurses acted as midwives in the birth suite, and in the eye and picanniny (children’s) clinic, nurse practitioners prescribed medicine, taking on the role general practitioners usually have in Australia. Our group worked alongside local nurses at the capital city’s Port Vila Central Hospital, which increased our awareness of the unique challenges Ni-van (Vanuatuan) nurses face. In the hospital, we were guided by our clinical facilitators and hospital staff to deal with a variety of wound dressings. There were limited resources but we learnt to make the most of what was available. Only one dressing set was afforded each day, to be used for all the patients. We also saw plastic gloves being used to tie the patient’s arm as a makeshift tourniquet during cannulation.
Going on to this placement, I’d been excited to work in the community. This sector of nursing enables people to live in their homes and access medical care when hospitals are too great a distance away. As a part of this experience, I found myself travelling between clinics in the back of a ute, passing by subtropical vegetation and the occasional cow grazing on the roadside. We completed maternal and child health checks at rural aid posts, and gave vaccinations to newborns and infants. We faced challenges such as the language barrier between English and Bislama (the national language), but we picked up key words and phrases. I admired the determination of the nurses we worked with. One nurse told us his story of wanting to work in the eye clinic after his friend was blinded as a child, due to corneal scarring that was not checked on time, which motivates him to prevent this from reoccurring.
We were also made to feel welcome during a three-day homestay with our Ni-van host families in their village. On the last night of our stay with them, we wore our island dresses (muumuus) gifted from our host mum, exchanged songs and had dances in the town hall with our host family and the children.
I would strongly encourage any students to experience working overseas, if they haven’t done so already. I think taking the chance to explore someplace different pushes your comfort zone, and gives you the opportunity to develop professionally and personally. Looking back, I gained greater confidence to work as a community nurse, and flexibility to adapt to an unfamiliar environment. In my future practice, I would be able to draw on the lessons I learned in Vanuatu to deal with the challenges I may encounter.
*Photograph by Demi Montgomery