In June I travelled to Fort Portal in Uganda to start an elective three week placement
As a second-year studying children’s nursing my time overseas was to be mainly spent working in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in a large public hospital.
I expected my experience to be typically what is portrayed to us every year on the BBC via our beloved fundraising shows. In many ways, it was.
”Being in the NICU was a whole new world and I couldn’t help but compare everything to what we have back in the UK.”
Being in the NICU was a whole new world and I couldn’t help but compare everything to what we have back in the UK; what we consider ’overcrowding’ to be; how we freely provide disposable nappies for the babies and infants we care for; how we have basic equipment such as scissors to cut bandages and dressings; how each individual that we care for has their own monitoring equipment; and how in the UK we have floors and walls in our hospitals so clean we could eat off them, if we so desired.
My time in the NICU was frustrating.
“I attempted to clean a baby who needed changing but I had only cotton wool to clean and a scarf to create a makeshift nappy, as the mother could not afford the luxury of disposables.”
I found myself faced with staff that did not feel entirely competent in regards to drug administration; I had to beg to be able to give phenobarbital (phenobarbitone) to a seizing baby after I checked the doses and liaised with a British paediatrician who was also volunteering on the unit. I was rather proud of my nursing knowledge on that occasion.
I found a massive discrepancy in resources compared to the UK; I cut tape to secure nasogastric tubes and nasal cannulas with a razor that was passed from mother to mother; I attempted to clean a baby who needed changing but I had only cotton wool to clean and a scarf to create a makeshift nappy, as the mother could not afford the luxury of disposables.
I felt frustration, sorrow, and fear overwhelm me often as I was left on the NICU alone to work tirelessly observing and recording the observations of each baby on the unit so I knew who I needed to keep a close eye on. I had to contact the British paediatrician to ask him to come in on many occasions as I had concerns about several of the babies.
It was on one particular day filled with such unease and uncertainty that I came to a realisation: the NHS is magical.
”I had to contact the British paediatrician to ask him to come in on many occasions as I had concerns about several of the babies.”
As a student in the UK I am fully supported in my training to stay safe and to deliver the best care within the limits of my competency.
Patients in the NHS are provided with the best evidence-based care and treatment for free.
Professionals within the NHS undertake countless hours of training in order to have the knowledge and ability to provide required medications and procedures.
Each individual cared for within the NHS has their own bed and does not need to share.
”I wish more people could experience what I did during my time in Uganda and I encourage all student nurses to try to experience international placements.”
Patients are fed and kept hydrated and if they cannot eat or drink we provide for them through intravenous devices that are meticulously cleaned and consistently checked.
I’ll keep repeating it; the NHS is magical.
Yet we find ourselves frustrated and frequently complain about it. I wish more people could experience what I did during my time in Uganda and I encourage all student nurses to try to experience international placements for many reasons, including in order to inform their perspective on the state of our healthcare system in this country in comparison to others.
So I’ll say it one more time for good measure; the NHS is magical.
Lucy Gardner is a current student nurse, child branch.