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Volunteering Abroad as a Nurse

. Tuesday, 23 January 2018 .
If you follow me over on my YouTube channel, you'll probably know that I went out to Tanzania in the summer of 2017 to volunteer as a nurse. By that point I had completed two years of my nursing training and was looking for an opportunity to both experience health services in a completely different environment and use the skills I had developed to help others. Tanzania is an incredible country and even if you don't want to volunteer, there are so many reasons to visit Tanzania. I get a lot of questions about my time out there, so I thought I'd try and sum everything up in a blog post.

View over the Serengeti, Tanzania
I don't really know what I expected before I went out to Tanzania, but what I found when I got there was pretty mind-blowing. I was very fortunate and got to spend time in two different hospitals, one was private and one was public. However, in Tanzania, a public hospital is not the same as a public hospital in the U.K. Generally public hospitals are state-funded and private ones you need to pay for out of your own pocket. But in Tanzania you need to pay no matter where you receive your treatment; there is no National Health Service. The only difference is that private hospitals are generally a bit nicer, better staffed and cost more. Whereas public hospitals are a lot more crowded, have less staff and resources but are cheaper. The reason I was so fortunate to spend time in both is that I gained very different types of experience; in the private hospital I took more of an observational role, following nurses and doctors around while they explained to me what they were doing. Whereas in the public hospital I was utilised as a member of staff, I was able to assist in surgery and work alongside other volunteers running the wound clinic. The wound clinic involved assessing and treating patients with a wide variety of conditions; from infected leg ulcers as a result of unmanaged diabetes to machete wounds. If you are wanting to volunteer abroad in a medical field, be aware that what you are allowed to do will depend on your level of training. You usually meet with someone senior on your first day who will find out what you are capable of doing and put you in the best area. So as someone with two-years nursing training I was allowed to actually do a lot more than medical students and people who had not yet started any formal training. Personally I would not recommend on volunteering abroad before you have started any kind of training, even though most companies will allow you to do this, as ultimately you will not get anywhere near as much from it at this point.

Operating Theatre in Tanzania
The most noticeable difference between U.K. and Tanzanian hospitals was definitely the hygiene and cleanliness. On my first morning in the hospital I was waiting outside the Doctor's office to introduce myself before I got stuck in. During this time I got to observe the workings of the ward. I was immediately struck by their use of gloves. Nursing staff were wearing gloves but they'd put on a pair, wipe down a surface, attend to a patient, write something in a patient's chart, use their phone and clear away some equipment... all while wearing the same pair of gloves. Now I'm not sure what the reason for this was, but my two guesses would be either they are trying to preserve what few resources they have or they just aren't fully aware of the principles behind changing gloves between tasks.

The hygiene in the operating theatre had to be the most surprising though. As a mental health nurse I'd never had any contact with an operating theatre before this trip, but I still had a basic understanding of hygiene during surgery. Possibly the most shocking thing I saw was operations being carried out WITH THE WINDOW OPEN. Operating theatres are usually sterile environments but in this case literally any bugs could have flown in the window and contaminated the theatre. The only cleaning that took place between surgeries was a quick wipe with a visibly dirty cloth from a bucket of bleach solution over the plastic sheet that covered the operating bed. The electricity was also pretty sketchy, so we quite often had to do surgeries with volunteers (or even family members of the person being operating on) holding flashlights or mobile phones so the surgeon could see what he was doing. They also don't use general anaesthetic for any operations, no matter how major. So it was a pretty unpleasant experience to see people being operating on with just a lidocaine (a local anaesthetic). You could clearly see they were in pain and I just shocked me that people would agree to an operation knowing how painful it would be!
Outside Lovolosi Hospital 
4 different nationalities, 4 different coloured scrubs
Another truly amazing element to the experience was seeing a whole range of conditions that I would be very unlikely to come across, if at all, in the U.K. I spent some time on the paediatric ward where the most common illness was Malaria, closely followed by accidental burns/poisoning from the fuel people store in their homes. A lot of people cannot afford to buy fuel in larger quantities, so shops will sell them in coke bottles. This means children often pick them up and drink the fuel if it is not stored properly. It is also common for the cooking apparatus that people use to catch on fire due to the use of the highly flammable fuel, so burns on children were also very common. I saw tumours the size of footballs where people had avoided seeking medical attention for so long, sometimes due to financial reasons and sometimes due to cultural/religious reasons, that their conditions were so much more serious than would ever be seen in the U.K. I also learnt they literally just treat everyone and everything with antibiotics, even when it seems like a really inappropriate treatment. Often people cannot afford the tests to determine the cause of an illness, so doctors will just prescribe a concoction of various antibiotics in the hope that one will help. It was quite baffling to see the way they do things, but at the same time it kind of made sense. They were just doing the best with the resources available to them.

Overall my experience was an unforgettable one. So if you are a nursing student or medical student I would highly recommend looking into the possibility of volunteering abroad. You will not regret it!

Have you ever volunteered abroad? Or is it something you would like to do? Let me know in the comments!
If you follow me over on my YouTube channel, you'll probably know that I went out to Tanzania in the summer of 2017 to volunteer as a nurse. By that point I had completed two years of my nursing training and was looking for an opportunity to both experience health services in a completely different environment and use the skills I had developed to help others. Tanzania is an incredible country and even if you don't want to volunteer, there are so many reasons to visit Tanzania. I get a lot of questions about my time out there, so I thought I'd try and sum everything up in a blog post.

View over the Serengeti, Tanzania
I don't really know what I expected before I went out to Tanzania, but what I found when I got there was pretty mind-blowing. I was very fortunate and got to spend time in two different hospitals, one was private and one was public. However, in Tanzania, a public hospital is not the same as a public hospital in the U.K. Generally public hospitals are state-funded and private ones you need to pay for out of your own pocket. But in Tanzania you need to pay no matter where you receive your treatment; there is no National Health Service. The only difference is that private hospitals are generally a bit nicer, better staffed and cost more. Whereas public hospitals are a lot more crowded, have less staff and resources but are cheaper. The reason I was so fortunate to spend time in both is that I gained very different types of experience; in the private hospital I took more of an observational role, following nurses and doctors around while they explained to me what they were doing. Whereas in the public hospital I was utilised as a member of staff, I was able to assist in surgery and work alongside other volunteers running the wound clinic. The wound clinic involved assessing and treating patients with a wide variety of conditions; from infected leg ulcers as a result of unmanaged diabetes to machete wounds. If you are wanting to volunteer abroad in a medical field, be aware that what you are allowed to do will depend on your level of training. You usually meet with someone senior on your first day who will find out what you are capable of doing and put you in the best area. So as someone with two-years nursing training I was allowed to actually do a lot more than medical students and people who had not yet started any formal training. Personally I would not recommend on volunteering abroad before you have started any kind of training, even though most companies will allow you to do this, as ultimately you will not get anywhere near as much from it at this point.

Operating Theatre in Tanzania
The most noticeable difference between U.K. and Tanzanian hospitals was definitely the hygiene and cleanliness. On my first morning in the hospital I was waiting outside the Doctor's office to introduce myself before I got stuck in. During this time I got to observe the workings of the ward. I was immediately struck by their use of gloves. Nursing staff were wearing gloves but they'd put on a pair, wipe down a surface, attend to a patient, write something in a patient's chart, use their phone and clear away some equipment... all while wearing the same pair of gloves. Now I'm not sure what the reason for this was, but my two guesses would be either they are trying to preserve what few resources they have or they just aren't fully aware of the principles behind changing gloves between tasks.

The hygiene in the operating theatre had to be the most surprising though. As a mental health nurse I'd never had any contact with an operating theatre before this trip, but I still had a basic understanding of hygiene during surgery. Possibly the most shocking thing I saw was operations being carried out WITH THE WINDOW OPEN. Operating theatres are usually sterile environments but in this case literally any bugs could have flown in the window and contaminated the theatre. The only cleaning that took place between surgeries was a quick wipe with a visibly dirty cloth from a bucket of bleach solution over the plastic sheet that covered the operating bed. The electricity was also pretty sketchy, so we quite often had to do surgeries with volunteers (or even family members of the person being operating on) holding flashlights or mobile phones so the surgeon could see what he was doing. They also don't use general anaesthetic for any operations, no matter how major. So it was a pretty unpleasant experience to see people being operating on with just a lidocaine (a local anaesthetic). You could clearly see they were in pain and I just shocked me that people would agree to an operation knowing how painful it would be!
Outside Lovolosi Hospital 
4 different nationalities, 4 different coloured scrubs
Another truly amazing element to the experience was seeing a whole range of conditions that I would be very unlikely to come across, if at all, in the U.K. I spent some time on the paediatric ward where the most common illness was Malaria, closely followed by accidental burns/poisoning from the fuel people store in their homes. A lot of people cannot afford to buy fuel in larger quantities, so shops will sell them in coke bottles. This means children often pick them up and drink the fuel if it is not stored properly. It is also common for the cooking apparatus that people use to catch on fire due to the use of the highly flammable fuel, so burns on children were also very common. I saw tumours the size of footballs where people had avoided seeking medical attention for so long, sometimes due to financial reasons and sometimes due to cultural/religious reasons, that their conditions were so much more serious than would ever be seen in the U.K. I also learnt they literally just treat everyone and everything with antibiotics, even when it seems like a really inappropriate treatment. Often people cannot afford the tests to determine the cause of an illness, so doctors will just prescribe a concoction of various antibiotics in the hope that one will help. It was quite baffling to see the way they do things, but at the same time it kind of made sense. They were just doing the best with the resources available to them.

Overall my experience was an unforgettable one. So if you are a nursing student or medical student I would highly recommend looking into the possibility of volunteering abroad. You will not regret it!

Have you ever volunteered abroad? Or is it something you would like to do? Let me know in the comments!

16 comments

  1. This sounds amazing! I've done a volunteer trip to Ghana a few years ago at a school which was incredible. Hope you have the best time.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This was absolutely fascinating, Chloe. What a truly life changing experience it must have been for you! We really do take health care for granted in the UK, how ever much we moan about the NHS. I can't believe the conditions you explained. Wonderful post.

    Jenny
    http://www.jennyinneverland.com

    ReplyDelete
  3. Amazing blog, need to check out your YT channel to see more ๐Ÿ’•

    www.thetravelbugster.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much! I love you love my channel too! ❤

      Delete
  4. This sounds like an incredible trip! I’m really glad you enjoyed it

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wow! Such an interesting post, it so hard to imagine these kinds of conditions this day and age! Makes me even more grateful for our NHS!

    Jade xx
    jademarie.co.uk

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's quite unbelievable I know! Totally agree, our NHS is incredible ❤

      Delete
  6. This was a very interesting article. I have never read anything like it. I am very glad that the hospitals where I live are not like that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree! I'm not sure I'd want to seek medical help at the hospitals I saw, but an incredible learning opportunity! ❤

      Delete
  7. Volunteering as a nurse abroad must have been such an exciting adventure! not a nurse nor a doctor but i am sure there are plenty of other volunteering opportunities ! xx corinne

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Adventure is definitely a good word to describe the experience! ❤

      Delete
  8. This sounds like such an incredible experience! I cannot believe how drastic the differences between our facilities - it just makes you appreciate what we do have here to be honest! Love hearing your travel stories Chloe!

    Char xxx
    www.scarletslippers.co.uk

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was very eye-opening that's for sure! ❤

      Delete

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