Clinical placements

Working in Sri Lanka was a confidence booster

An eye-opening placement in a developing country enhanced this student's communcation skills and empathy while making her grateful for the care we have at home

Teaching Hospital Kandy in Sri Lanka. Picture: Mediajet

An eye-opening placement in a developing country enhanced this student's communication skills and empathy while making her grateful for the care we have at home

When I started my adult nursing degree in 2015, I could not have imagined I would spend four weeks working in a teaching hospital in Sri Lanka.

Having travelled almost 5,500 miles to a country lacking financial recourses, and faced with a language barrier, I knew my elective placement in the second year of training, would be a challenge. But it was also the perfect opportunity for me to develop my interpersonal skills, such as non-verbal communication.

With the limited vocabulary I had learned, I attempted to speak the local language, Sinhalese. However, I found that a simple smile, appropriate manner and right attitude went a long way when dealing with patients and staff. 

Broadened my horizons

Teaching Hospital Kandy is the second largest hospital in Sri Lanka, providing free medical treatment to the 2.5 million people in the catchment area. The hospital has 2,200 beds, but on an average day there are around 2,800 inpatients, and it was not uncommon to see people sharing beds. I also saw people lying on benches and even the floor. 

I spent my four weeks on two different wards – general surgery and obstetrics and gynaecology. I particularly enjoyed my time on the maternity ward, but with up to 30 deliveries a day, it was overwhelming. 

The delivery room had eight beds, less than a metre away from each other, surrounded by a curtain that was never used. I cannot begin to imagine the anxiety the women must have been experiencing, combined with the lack of privacy and dignity. 

Despite being alone, due to no birthing partners allowed, not once did I hear or see any woman moan, scream or make a fuss during labour. They were reserved, and seemed extremely grateful for the care they were receiving, which in our eyes would be inadequate. 

I was surprised by the lack of holistic care, and the withholding of basic principles of nursing and midwifery, such as privacy, dignity, respect and compassion, which can make a world of difference to our patients.

Having spent my nurse training empowering patients and putting them at the centre of care, the lack of consent I witnessed at times was quite distressing. 

However, the experience broadened my horizons, enhanced my communication skills and improved my self-confidence. By working on the different wards, and embracing the Sri Lankan cultures and values, I began to challenge myself and develop professionally. 

Being exposed to a way of nursing that differs from my experience in Jersey in the Channel Islands also made me grateful for our own health care system, and I have developed a new sense of empathy for those who have less. 

Hattie O’Brien is a third-year adult nursing student, studying in Jersey with the University of Chester 

This article is for subscribers only