When I started my nursing education, I knew immediately that I wanted to go abroad for a placement. I was keen to discover healthcare in a different culture and gain experience working in a totally different setting as I hope my future career is with Doctors Without Borders.
After high school, I took a gap year and travelled for 4 months through Southeast Asia, but I missed out on The Philippines. As I don’t speak any Spanish and I want to save discovering Africa for when I’m a little bit older, I picked The Philippines. I fell in love with Southeast Asia 3 years ago and the added benefit of picking a country where most of the people are able to communicate in English sounded good to me. After one phone call with the Work the World (WtW) I was convinced; The Philippines was for me!
I arrived a few days before the start of my placement, so I had some time to adjust to the temperature and jetlag. Before my placement started, I was taken on a hospital tour and was introduced by a WtW staff member to my supervisors and teams I’d be. I was going to be spending a total of 8 weeks in Iloilo which is quite a long time, so WtW arranged for me to spend my time in two different partner hospitals, a University Teaching Hospital (semi-private) and a Government-run hospital. I really liked the idea of seeing two very different aspects of the healthcare system in The Philippines.
There was a massive difference when comparing the hospital and systems to what I am used to back in Holland. At home, everyone has healthcare insurance and all hospitals are quite similar, some differ in specialities, but the quality requirements are the same for every institution. Even though, it’s very common in a lot of countries around the world, for me, it is hard to believe you won’t receive healthcare if you don’t have the money to pay for it yourself.
On my first week of placement I had to adjust and get used to a new way of communicating with the staff in the hospital. This enabled me to gain their trust, and in return they then allowed me to become more involved and carry out tasks. Filipino’s are so friendly, I went to lunch and dinner with some of the hospital staff members, this was an amazing opportunity because you really engage with the local community and don’t just live in a tourist bubble.
I’ve gained more knowledge and skills during my placement than I had expected to. The level of education as Filipino nurse is higher than I expected, and their full education is in English, so you can talk to them and ask them questions about everything. Their way of performing practical nursing skills maybe outdated compared to what we’re used to, or they simply don’t have the resources that we may have, meaning more often than not they have to be more resourceful and creative.
The local nurses taught me that there is always a solution to any problem. For example, because of the lack of resources, painkillers are not used as frequently as what I would be used to – at times you have to really strong as a nurse to say “squeeze the table or my hand’. This is hard when someone is screaming in pain, but you just need to be there to support them and get them through the moment. It is moments like this that definitely made me stronger as a person, and taught me a lot of lessons for my future career.
I also developed many practical skills whilst on placement. Under supervision, I helped with putting in IV’s for example, assisted with minor surgery and helped in the labour wards for the first time.
In Iloilo everything is recorded and documented on paper and not always on computers. You also can’t expect any privacy in the ER, delivery room or general ward either. Every patient has one or more family member around their bed. It is crowded and warm, but you could see all hospital staff were trying their best with the materials they had.
Even though a nurse could have 40 children on her ward, they all remained so calm and friendly. I had a great deal of respect for the nurses and doctors who worked their way through the hospital ensuring every single patient was receiving the best care they could possible give. This energy of ‘never giving up’ and ‘carrying on’ no matter what’ is something I’ve taken home with me and I will use this same energy and passion in Holland.
Outside of placement there was plenty of time for fun and relaxation. After placement, I would cool down with a shower and have some lunch (the food at the WtW house is absolutely amazing)! I often worked on my assignments, but I would also regularly go to one of the hotel rooftop swimming pools to relax. There were afternoons filled with shopping (the A/C in the malls are really good) and drink bubble tea. One week I got to know the city by traveling around on the local buses known as jeepneys. Locals were always willing to help you out if you got lost.
We’d walk to the big mall and joined an outdoor (free) Zumba lesson; it was sweltering hot but so much fun. Every Tuesday the WtW staff would organise their weekly BBQ for all the staff and students, followed by some classic Filipino karaoke! I loved Tuesday nights; it was really good to sit together with everyone and have fun. After the BBQ we’d often go a bar with live music and DJ’s.
Almost every weekend I would go further afield to explore The Philippines. From hiking in Antique and sleeping in a cottage on a hill to partying in Borocay, and also visiting Cebu where I got my PADI open water diving qualification. There is so much to see and do at weekends.
What I would like to say to encourage others to undertake this adventure is; don’t hold yourself back. You’ll learn about different cultures but even more about how to connect and work with people with different values and from different cultures. You’ll learn so much more about global healthcare – all valuable life lessons. You’ll also a lot of fun and make so many new friends.
Life begins outside your comfort zone!