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Your nursing stories: What's it like to nurse in a developing country?

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In honour of International Nurses’ Day, Work the World, who specialise in medical electives in developing countries for both professionals and students, have brought together a selection of moving and insightful accounts from nurses who have provided care in settings so hugely different from home.


“When I spent time in the labour ward, I assisted the staff with many births and helped take care of women in labour. During my time at the local hospital, I experienced so many different emotions - just like at home. There were happy times when I would see the patients’ health improve but there were also times when I would witness their health drastically decline, mainly because of the limited resources the hospital had to treat them.

“There were multiple times I felt helpless watching patients suffer due to the lack of resources on hand, where at home there may have been a different medical outcome.”

Madison Molotky, nursing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

neonatal nurse wraps a newborn in a traditional tanzanian kanga in dar es salaam

neonatal nurse wraps a newborn in a traditional tanzanian kanga in dar es salaam

Neonatal nurse wraps a newborn in a traditional Tanzanian

“One of the most interesting cases I saw was a newborn baby with congenital heart disease. At home, this baby would have had heart surgery within the first 24 hours of being born. Here, the baby was initially placed in an oxygen head box and put on antibiotics. He was in the NIMCU for four days before being transferred to another hospital for the needed surgery.

“Another interesting case that I saw quite often was a skin disease called pustulosis. During the three weeks I spent in the NIMCU, there was always at least one baby with this particular skin disease. It was not contagious and usually genetic or caused by smoke inhalation.”

Samantha Maddox, nursing in Kathmandu, Nepal


“When I was in Kathmandu, I spent some time living and working in a rural village, which was a real highlight of my experience. The village was staggeringly beautiful, the people were friendly and welcoming and the chance to work alongside doctors in their local clinic was invaluable.

“I spent the mornings in clinic where my duties would vary each day: from vaccinations, child physical assessments and assessing patients with HIV. I spent a lot of time with traditional Maasai women and their babies.

“An experience like this changes you. It changes the way you see yourself, it changes the way you see healthcare and it especially changes you as a nurse. As challenging as it can be, I am now able to adapt as a nurse to my environment and essentially, provide better care for my patients. I was so humbled by the experience.”

Madeline Nastaly, nursing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

a nurse meets tanzanian maasai tribe elders whilst providing care in their village

a nurse meets tanzanian maasai tribe elders whilst providing care in their village

A nurse meets Tanzanian Maasai tribe elders whilst providing care in their village

“My time on the burns unit in a hospital in Kathmandu was eye opening, to say the least. The nurses on the ward were lovely; they insisted every morning that I have masala tea with them.

“Burn dressings are changed every other day, and all of the patients are seen one after the other in a ‘treatment room’, regardless of severity. There is a bed in the treatment room on which a small, square cotton sheet is laid (a new one for each patient). The patients are given IV morphine before their dressing is changed, but they are still in immense pain. The children very rarely stay on the cotton sheets due to writhing in pain; they often had exposed wounds touching the bare bed (which was never cleaned). The infection risk was huge.

”Nurses tried their hardest to maintain aseptic technique but it did not happen; parents were touching the wounds, people were walking in and out of the room whilst dressings were being changed and the children themselves were touching the wounds. The dressings for all wounds were the same and nothing like the ones available here; all of them were made from gauze of varying thickness. A lot of the wounds were infected and green in colour.

“One 5 year-old child had a bandage across the whole of her face and head. When I asked how this had happened, the nurse told me that the child was playing with dirt that had been set on fire and had fallen into it. The worst burn that I saw was on a 2 month-old boy, who had been wrapped in a blanket and placed in front of the fire by his mother, the blanket caught fire and the child was burnt. The burn extended down the right hand side of the child’s body and was so severe that the child’s knee cap was exposed”

Abigail Callahagn, nursing in Kathmandu, Nepal


“For the first two weeks I assisted in accident and emergency, seeing a variety of injuries and illnesses, some of which are rarely seen in the UK. The department was fairly basic, however they did have plenty of staff to cover the busy wards, assisting with dressings, administering medications and triaging patients.

”My time in Ghana was not only an extremely eye-opening experience, but it has enabled me to gain a deeper trans-cultural awareness as well as further enhance my communication skills. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Takoradi, and feel that it has been a life-changing and life-affirming journey”

April Bradbeer, Nursing in Takoradi, Ghana

paediatric nurse prepares leg cast for toddler in a low resource village clinic in takoradi ghana

paediatric nurse prepares leg cast for toddler in a low resource village clinic in takoradi ghana

Paediatric nurse prepares leg cast for toddler in a low-resource village clinic in Takoradi, Ghana

“My time was spent in a medical intensive care unit in Kandy. What’s blatantly obvious is the lack of funding the ward has (as does every ward in the hospital). The patients were in beds made up of rags and they had no pressure relieving mattresses.

”While on this ward I came across a 15 year-old patient who simply started off with an ear infection, his family are extremely poor and had been advised by some locals to treat this with herbs and dirt from the ground. As a result the infection had spread and had become a brain abscess which now needed surgery. I know this is a severe example but it reiterated to me how important health education is, not only here in Sri Lanka but at home as well and as a result I will be taking it more seriously in my career at home.”

Arwen Graham, nursing in Kandy, Sri Lanka

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