Before I started my nursing degree back in 2014 I was at a crossroads in my life.
I needed a change from my waitressing job that I had long suffered for seven years and felt more than ever I wanted to be a nurse. However, I have always wanted to travel or live abroad and experience a different culture and lifestyle. Ultimately I chose to focus on my nursing career and put my traveling plans on hold. So when I heard that I could combine my two dreams by doing an international placement I jumped at the chance. I applied, got accepted and in May this year I flew out to undertake a two-month exchange in Alicante.
“I applied, got accepted and in May this year I flew out to undertake a two-month exchange in Alicante”
I had two placements while on exchange, my first being in ophthalmology. This is an area I had zero experience in prior to my exchange which worried me slightly but I found it fascinating. I was mostly in theatre and saw everything from cataract surgery to blepharoplasties. In my final days I was assisting in surgery as the scrub nurse under the watchful eye of my mentor, which I have to say is one of my proudest moments in my studies so far.
The second placement I was allocated was in a surgical ward where I got lots of experience in drug administration. I enjoyed this placement as I could communicate with my patients, practice my Spanish with them and they enjoyed learning about Scotland.
I was surprised to learn that Spanish student nurses were allowed to take blood, something that we would never be able to do in Scotland, and they found it strange that that we were not allowed to. The wards were also very different to the wards I am used to working on in Glasgow. The hospital was private so all rooms were private rooms with a spare bed for your family or friends to sleep in, balconies with a view and spacious en-suite bathroom. All the nursing staff wore brilliant-white tunics and trousers and I was instantly rushed out of my student nursing uniform, which as we all know resembles a grey sack, and into the angelic uniform.
”I was assisting in surgery as the scrub nurse under the watchful eye of my mentor, which I have to say is one of my proudest moments in my studies so far”
However, private means the cost must be covered, so when we finished our drug round we would add the drugs, personal protective equipment and even the use of the blood pressure monitor on to their record to be billed at a later date. Although we never saw how much anything cost this was something I felt uncomfortable with at first as I was so used to working in the NHS where healthcare is free to everyone. The epidemiology was also interesting to contrast with Scotland as our biggest health problems include heart disease, diabetes and obesity. These diseases did not seem as prevalent and fewer people had comorbidities compared with my experience back home. This is probably due to differing lifestyles and social norms between the two cultures.
“If I can travel alone to a different country and work for two months as a student nurse then I can do anything”
In my time off from my placements I visited surrounding towns and cities such as Barcelona, Valencia, Callosa d’en sarrià and Benidorm. Alicante also hosted the festival of fire, Hogueras, which was amazing to be a part of. The whole experience was very beneficial to my confidence as a student nurse as I feel if I can travel alone to a different country and work for two months as a student nurse then I can do anything that I may come across in my final year.
If you are considering doing an exchange let me give you three parting pearls of wisdom: learn as much as you can about the exchange country’s language before you go; join meetup groups online to socialise with locals and other tourists on everything from cooking classes to language exchanges; and finally, travel, explore and embrace the country’s culture.
Emma Grace Duffy is a current student nurse