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Military nursing students in Zambia: reflections of our first week

Continuing our series from Zambia, the six military nursing students on a three-week elective placement reflect on the challenges and new experiences of their first week. 

Continuing our series from Zambia, the six military nursing students on a three-week elective placement reflect on the challenges, and new experiences from their first week

L-R: Oliver Jenkin, Alexander Ball, Frances Metson (front), Casey Petch (front), Shannon Murphy,
and Hannah Lewis with nursing staff from the University Teaching Hospital Zambia

Due to our previous training and exposure to different environments, as a group we feel we have adapted well to our new living and working surroundings and have survived our first few days working in the hospital and the challenges it has thrown at us. 

We are impressed with the way families are strongly involved with the needs of their relatives; from general turning to avoid pressure ulcers to feeding, cleaning and assisting the nurses with medical treatments. This was noted as a major difference to the UK, where patient care is nurse-driven. 

Our time on the medical ward was an eye-opening experience. We witnessed the lack of available resources – including medication, medical supplies and basic equipment – and some situations were quite ethically challenging; we observed patients sadly deteriorating and becoming seriously ill, which could have been prevented or managed had resources been available. 

Adapting the situation

Reflecting together as a group made us think about situations as military nurses where we may be in resource-limited environments and how we may need to change our NHS practices, some of which can be wasteful, to adapt to the situation. 

Above all, exposure to clinical areas that have limited medical supplies has made us all realise how lucky we are in the UK, and made us appreciate the healthcare offered to us. 

In the critical care unit, we helped care for several patients who had life-threatening conditions, including head trauma due to assault, organo-phosphate poisoning and a child with 53% burns. Fran and Casey have previous experience of working in the burns unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, so we observed the care of the child particularly carefully. 

During the afternoon, we helped assist with a full dressing change and observed the doctor putting a central line in the child’s right femoral vein. One of the major differences we found from UK practice was that the dressings were done at the bedside – in the UK any burns over 25-30% would be done in theatre in a completely sterile environment. Although the way the dressings were applied differed to the way burns dressings are applied in the UK, the materials used were similar. 


We all feel humbled to have had such a warm welcome from the nursing students who attend University Teaching Hospital Zambia, who were interested in finding out more about UK nursing practice. 

We are all looking forward to the further challenges and experiences that the hospital will provide over the coming days, but this is already an experience we will never forget.

Frances Metson, Shannon Murphy, Hannah Lewis, Casey Petch, Alexander Ball and Oliver Jenkin are military nursing students at Birmingham City University 

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