Career advice

Opportunity to make a difference

Clinical electives in developing countries can improve health through education, organisational support, advocacy, delivery of health services, and support to peers who are often working under great pressure.

As an army nursing officer specialising in intensive care and nurse education, I wanted to do an elective in a developing country to support my professional learning and to enhance my teaching of a postgraduate module, part of the BSc (Hons) in defence healthcare studies.

It is estimated that around 8 billion people worldwide do not have access to surgery and the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery highlighted deficiencies in the provision of safe surgery in developing countries.

This was why I volunteered to support a Tropical Health and Education Trust (THET) project in Zambia. THET works to improve education for health workers in low and middle income countries.

The programme was run in conjunction with the Zambian Ministry of Health and supported by the UK Department of International Development (DFID). My work involved working and teaching at the main intensive care unit (MICU) and school of nursing at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) in the capital, Lusaka. With 2,000 beds, UTH is the largest hospital in Zambia.

I met MICU nurses, matrons, principal tutors and the registrar of the General Nursing Council for Zambia, an organisation which allowed nurses to contribute to the project plan of developing critical care nursing and to gain an insight into nursing practices.

Registered nurses and nursing students at the University Teaching Hospital, Lusaka

Working innovatively.

Sharing knowledge in a new culture.

Developing new ideas about treatments and services.

Working in clinical conditions rarely seen in the UK.

Renewed dedication to the nursing ethos.

The experience was fascinating, because I am used to working in the deployed military environment. In Zambia, I was nursing local people and mentoring local healthcare professionals.

Admissions ranged from patients experiencing trauma after assaults and road traffic collisions to those with malaria and tetanus. All were managed with minimal nursing and medical cover, coupled with limited supplies and technology.

There is a serious shortage of registered nurses in Zambia. The poor pay and limited continuing professional development opportunities mean that nurses often burn out and seek employment elsewhere.

While my trip highlighted the challenges facing critical care nurses in Zambia, it was an experience I will never forget.

Further information

Lancet Commission on Global Surgery


Working with humanitarian organisations

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