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A nursing elective teaches you much more than just nursing

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Sophie Johnston, a third year student nurse, writes about her experience in Sri Lanka… 

sophie johnston

sophie johnston

So, relatively last minute I decided to go on an overseas nursing elective.

I travelled alone to Sri Lanka to observe in a Government Hospital to enhance my nursing knowledge. I had no real expectations of the nursing I would observe, I just wanted to gain insight into a different culture of nursing.

I spent most of my time in theatres and observed a variety of surgeries from wound debridement to a laparoscopic cholecystectomy under full sedation.

Within Sri Lanka there are two main treatment options for health, which are medicinal and Ayurveda. Ayurveda medicine is based upon balancing the mind, the body and the spirit, which often involves a lot of herbal medicines.

Initially, I was ignorant and couldn’t understand the rationale to choose this over pharmacological interventions. However, I now understand the power of the mind.

Spending only mornings in the hospital I had the afternoons free to explore. Although I spent many an afternoon topping up my tan on the beach I was intrigued by the Buddhist temples.

I had previously practiced mindfulness meditation, but was eager to experience a different kind of meditation. During a visit to one of the temples I had the pleasure of speaking to and meditating with a Buddhist Monk. We spent a lot of time talking about emotions and how life can be turned upside down by the stories our minds tell us.

He explained that he embraces all emotions, acknowledging their existence, allowing himself to feel them fully before letting them pass.

Allowing oneself to master emotions, it isn’t about ignoring them, in fact quite the opposite. It was after this conversation that I pondered the idea of ”good” and ”bad” emotions. I was able to conclude that we categorise these feelings inappropriately; feeling is feeling.

No matter what the emotion is it is ok to feel it as long as you can learn to let it go once it passes.

This is very much the same within nursing. The nursing profession display a tough culture, whereby showing emotions is often seen as a weakness or an inability to cope.

The focus should be on building a resilient work force, and this involves showing and feeling these emotions while also having the coping mechanisms to let them pass.

Throughout my last weekend in Sri Lanka I encountered some mishaps! During this weekend was when I finally realised, you don’t have to love every single thing about your life to be happy. One thing going wrong doesn’t have to ruin your whole day, it depends how you decide to respond to it.

Which is exactly the same in nursing, it is going to be stressful, things are going to go wrong, but ultimately it depends upon how we respond and perceive the situation. Spending so much time alone in a peaceful country was exactly what I needed after a stressful second year. It was in the midst of silence when I truly heard myself and my own mind.

How ironic that I travelled to Sri Lanka for a nursing elective, yet learned no specific nursing skills. In fact, what I did learn, will make me a much better nurse. I have learned the power of embracing…embracing different people, cultures, ways of life and most importantly, myself.

I now have the skills to become a better version of myself, thus a better nurse. When you are kinder to yourself you have the power to be kinder to the world.

When you love yourself, you have more love to give to the world.

Sophie Johnston is a third year student nurse at the university of Cumbria. 

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