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Military nursing students in Zambia: visiting the hospitals and settling in

In the second on our series from Zambia, the six military nursing students undergoing a three-week elective placement describe their visit to the local hospitals and how they are coping with the cultural and environmental changes.

In the second on our series from Zambia, the six military nursing students undergoing a three-week elective placement describe their visit to the local hospitals, and how they are coping with the cultural and environmental changes

We are a group of second and third year military nursing students from Birmingham City University who have been given the opportunity to complete an elective placement at a University Teaching Hospital (UTH) in Zambia.

When we arrived, were greeted by the UTH staff at the airport who made us feel instantly welcome. We are being accommodated with the nursing students currently studying here, as well as some other elective students from Uganda, who helped us settle in, showed us the basics and

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In the second on our series from Zambia, the six military nursing students undergoing a three-week elective placement describe their visit to the local hospitals, and how they are coping with the cultural and environmental changes 


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

We are a group of second and third year military nursing students from Birmingham City University who have been given the opportunity to complete an elective placement at a University Teaching Hospital (UTH) in Zambia.

When we arrived, were greeted by the UTH staff at the airport who made us feel instantly welcome. We are being accommodated with the nursing students currently studying here, as well as some other elective students from Uganda, who helped us settle in, showed us the basics and gave us a quick tour of the facilities. 

We have already experienced different cultures and ways of working, and the change of conditions took some of us a bit of time to adapt to; running water is turned off between 5pm and 5am, for example, and we only having basic cooking and washing facilities.

Similarities

The experience which has had the greatest impact so far has been our tour of the hospital and its different areas. When we started the tour in the skills laboratory, we were surprised to see similarities to the UK in the set up and equipment available. 

When we visited the Children’s Hospital – including the children’s intensive care unit, malnutrition ward and general medical wards – the smiles and positivity from the parents with critically ill children shows the trust they have in the care they receive.

We then moved on to the main hospital where we were able to compare adult wards in the UK to adult wards in Zambia. Again, we were surprised with the different facilities and specialities available, and also how hands-on families are with family members who are ill. 

One area that spiked our interest and tested emotions was the mortuary. This has observational theatres where medical students can watch full autopsies and learn about anatomy, and when we visited we witnessed two bodies being closed. We have been invited back later during our placement to observe a full autopsy, something we have not had exposure to during our studies in the UK. 

We were also taken to the morgue – where some bodies are stored for up to 60 days – and shown two different storage areas: one for patients who had passed away in hospital and another for patients who had died outside of the hospital through accidents, disease or other natural causes. 

Mixed emotions

This was an extremely challenging environment, different to what is experienced and expected in UK hospitals. The bodies were placed in rows on shelves, uncovered, which shocked some of us due to our practice of last offices on previous placements in the UK. 

Many of us have not been exposed to this number of dead bodies – which included children and babies – and there were mixed emotions throughout the group. 

We were also shown the emergency department and the radiography departments, which were similar to those back in the UK, and visited other buildings including the Cancer Centre, theatres and intensive care.

To end the day, we re-visited the Children’s Hospital to donate the toys, books, colouring books and pens we had collected from our peers prior to leaving the UK. The hospital has a playroom in the building for children currently being treated. 

Now that our eyes have been opened to the lifestyle and challenges of our working environment, we are keener than ever to tackle the coming week in our given practice areas. 


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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