Sirjana Devkota’s research in Nepal showed her how important hands-on experience can be
Not many people can say they feel at home on two continents, but Sirjana Devkota can. She currently lives and works in Aberdeen, but she knows she’s always welcome in Nepal – her original home, nearly 5,000 miles away.
Ms Devkota grew up in Nepal, where she trained as a staff nurse before coming to the UK in 2006 to complete her master’s degree at the University of Dundee. She became a research nurse for Aberdeen Royal Infirmary in 2014, at which point she turned her attention to a project of personal passion: helping the senior citizens of her homeland.
“I have always been interested in doing something in my home country,” she says. “When I came over to the UK and began working in care homes, I realised that Nepal needed to look into the situation with its older people. People are traditionally looked after by families but things are changing. The traditional role of women is changing due to social dynamics and people from rural areas are moving to more urban areas, leaving the older people behind.”
I think it’s very important to go and speak with people, and have a feel for their situation in order to understand them
Ms Devkota is part of the research team Aberdeen Gerontological and Epidemiological Interdisciplinary Research Group (AGEING). Led by Professor Phyo Myint and Dr Roy Soiza – both of whom Ms Devkota cites as personal inspirations – the group aims to better understand, develop and promote the health and proper care of older people. It was through AGEING that Ms Devkota received support to carry out research in Nepal.
“I wanted to look at how older people are doing, what their health is like, how they’re adjusting in society and the problems they are facing,” she says. This on-site work wasn’t just critical to her research, but was also her favourite part of the process.
“I really enjoyed visiting the older people in their homes, speaking with them face to face,” she says.
Armed with first-hand experience, Ms Devkota returned to the UK and began to hone her research, which she presented at the Royal College of Nursing’s International Research Conference in April. She and her colleagues have also submitted the research, which focuses on frailty and associated co-morbidities among older people in Nepal, to journals for publication.
For researchers, I would say it’s vital to go out and speak with people directly – that motivation encourages you
“Hopefully, the results will come out and people will be able to read about it in detail, and apply it to their own lives,” Ms Devkota says.
Many other developing countries are facing similar challenges in terms of older people’s care and her research could be applied just as effectively to these places, she believes.
“The population of older people is increasing in all low-income countries [and there is a] lack of knowledge about co-morbidities and frailties,” says Ms Devkota.
“By looking into one developing country like Nepal, you can translate the research to other countries as well.”
”I am open to doing fieldwork in other countries if needed. I think it’s very important to go and speak with people, and have a feel for their situation in order to understand them,” she says.
Naturally, this approach is central to her philosophy of research, especially when it has the potential to change people’s lives.
“For researchers, I would say it’s vital to go out and speak with people directly. That kind of motivation encourages you to do much more than you would otherwise,” she says.
This is certainly true for Ms Devkota herself, who has plenty of ambition for what she will do next.
“I might develop my career as an academic researcher,” she says. “I don’t know where it would lead me, but possibly doing a PhD on a topic that would be in the interest of the public.”
Indeed, serving the public seems to be Ms Devkota’s true area of expertise, in Nepal and Aberdeen. Both her old and adopted home are fortunate to have her.