I’m a 2nd year Child Nursing student studying at University of Cumbria.
I have an elective period as part of my course and after struggling to get a Paediatric placement in the UK I decided to head overseas.
I spent 3 weeks in the city of Iloilo in The Philippines and had the time of my life!
I travelled on my own, and I am not going to lie, I was incredibly nervous about the long journey to the Philippines and being there on my own. I need not have worried at all.
Upon arriving at Iloilo Airport I was immediately greeted by the Work the World team. It was such a relief to finally be there and to see such friendly faces.
We immediately travelled back to the Work the World house where I unpacked and settled in. Throughout the day students who were already there on placement started returning back from their weekend trips. I am quite an outgoing person anyway and I can generally talk to anyone so I had no issues making new friends. I was made to feel very welcome and at home by all of them.
Before I started my placements I was taken on a tour of the hospital. In some ways the hospital was much better than I thought it would be for a low-income hospital. However, over the next few weeks I definitely saw areas how the lack of income impacted them.
I spent my time rotating through the NICU, Paediatrics and DR (delivery room). The hospital teams were so welcoming and they taught me so much. Their knowledge is obviously very different to ours and they really wanted to explain more about their healthcare system. They also really wanted to know about what we did at home too, so in some ways there were mutual learnings, which were unexpected and really great.
When I was on the Paediatric Ward, I was with one of the doctors and they were trying to cannulate a young child who kept moving and screaming. She asked me what we would do in England and I was explaining that we would get a hot compress or a glove with hot water (WTF) to place over the veins you wanted to cannulate. This helps bring them to the surface, so she tried it and it worked and she really appreciated it. It was so nice that although she is way more qualified than me, she took on what I was saying and there was mutual respect.
Without a doubt my absolute favourite department was DR. There were many confronting situations and you couldn’t help but think had this been in the UK this child probably would have survived, however, it is a different healthcare system with different cultures and a definite lack of funding compared to the NHS.
It was such a busy department, it was literally one patient in, one patient out. There is little to no patient-centred care, they simply don’t have the staff and resources to be able to offer this - one day there were 5 deliveries within an hour, it was so busy.
Culturally there were great differences too. Labouring women were alone, no partners were allowed in with them. Women are also required to give birth with epidurals , no gas and air and in silence. This was so hard to see but I had to understand it was due to cultural differences. They also used no anaesthetic to cut women if the baby was stuck and no anaesthetic when sowing them up afterwards - all the while the patient had to be silent. They displayed a strength like no other I’ve seen.
It’s not that the hospital staff don’t care, they really do, they are mostly understaffed and patient volumes are incredibly high.
I spent a week in NICU and it was probably the hottest, sweatiest week of my life, no air conditioning whilst wearing full PPE. I saw cases that I would simply never have seen in the UK. Cases were so much more severe and advanced than what I would see at home. Healthcare is free, however medication isn’t and so many of the patients can’t afford this so they would put off going to hospital for as long as possible.
The Work the World team are probably some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. The made me feel really at home. Marfi who did our language lessons was so good - these lessons were one of my highlights. Learning the basics of the local language was so useful, both inside and outside the hospital. We’d be able to interact, albeit on a basic level with the patients which was so useful.
The staff team would also introduce us to all hospital staff members each time I went into a different department, they would check up on us whilst on placement to ensure we were happy and we were getting everything out of the placement, they couldn’t do enough for us.
I’ve made friends for life with the other students I met at the Work the World house. We’re already planning to meet up in the UK when we’re all back and can find some free time.
It was so nice living with other healthcare students from around the world. We’re all like minded and it was also fascinating to hear about America, Canadian, Dutch healthcare systems.
After placement we’d come back to the house, and have dinner - the food was amazing! I have specific dietary requirements and this did not phase the catering team at all, they catered to my every need.
After dinner we’d often get ready together to then go exploring in Iloilo. We did a lot of shopping, went out for drinks, went to the swimming pool, and went out to bars. It was so sociable - I needn’t have ever worried about going on my own.
Every Thursday was BBQ night, it was so much fun. Amazing food, karaoke (which is a big thing in the Philippines!), we’d play some drinking games and more often we ended up going out for the rest of the evening together, it was great.
Each weekend we would all go travelling together. We did lots of island hopping - exploring the Philippines is so easy and so much cheaper than home, it feels like you’re constantly getting a bargain. There are so many amazing islands close by - everything is so accessible.
The team at the house were also great at helping us organise where we wanted to go, how we’d get there etc. With them being local it really helped as they had the best knowledge. One weekend we went to Boracay which was the best place I’ve ever been. It didn’t feel real - it was stunning!
My time in the Philippines has made me think about the type of nurse I want to be, and has made me want to listen to patients' stories more.
I want to treat all my patients as though it could be a close family member. It has opened my eyes and I am so grateful for this experience.
Going to The Philippines was the best experience I’ve ever had in my entire life. It was the perfect balance of hospital placement and actually getting to explore some of this amazing country. I'm already planning on going back next year.