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Studying beyond the border

By Sally 15 Jul 2019
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What if you were brave enough to study abroad? What if you were brave enough to complete a placement in Vietnam with 15 strangers, knowing you had to live with them for the next three weeks? What if you had been ignoring that small voice inside your head telling you to follow a path that you thought was not right for you, but that turned out to be a perfectly predestined path? These ‘what ifs’ soon became my reality when I decided to venture overseas to pursue a part of my studies.

Nursing students at the University of Southern Queensland have the opportunity to nominate themselves to undertake a clinical placement in Vietnam. After finding the information for this experience on the nursing professional practice hub, I followed the steps to apply. I was fortunate enough to be accepted into a team of 14 students, two lecturers and five tour guides (doubling as interpreters and local health professionals from Buffalo Tours), to go to Vietnam for my community placement during my Bachelor of Nursing.

I was nervous, I had my fears and doubts, but mostly I was intoxicatingly excited about the journey looming ahead.

However, no-one could have prepared me for what was to come. Never once did I even contemplate that someone could ever convince me that midwifery is a career path that I so desperately would want to pursue … no-one except for a soon-to-be mother and an incredible midwife and educator. It was only by taking a passing opportunity that my eyes were opened to a whole new career path. A career path I never would have chosen if I turned away an opportunity – to be a part of bringing a life into the world ¬– that was handed to me on a silver platter.

Additionally, the entire placement enabled me to grow in confidence and increase my professional nursing skills in a variety of ways. It was our job, in addition to three days in the Mai Chau Hospital, to set up ‘mobile clinics’ in three different communities in remote Vietnam. Our key role was to assess, diagnose, prescribe to, and educate patients. I soon learnt that the vital component of the health clinics was not assessing, diagnosing or even prescribing; it was education. It became quite clear to me that prescriptions and medication will eventually run out. However, education on simple things – drinking more water, consuming more iron, eating a healthy and balanced diet – would tremendously improve health conditions – for free!

I believe that education is something nurses should do better in all countries and this is an imperative skill I took home with me.

I was quite confronted by some health practices I saw in Vietnam: for example, their birthing suite has metal stirrups; their paediatric ward is shared with their medical ward; they discourage the use of pain relief after major surgery (one patient had 1 gram of Panadol in the 48 hours post-hysterectomy). However, despite the differences I saw in their practice, the Vietnamese health practitioners had a clear lifelong commitment to improving their skills and learning, and a genuine passion and interest for their career – something I believe to be invaluable and sometimes missing in Australian health practitioners.

For any readers out there that may be anxious, fearful or have some doubts about endeavouring overseas to study, I want to say to you that this is normal. To be nervous is to show that you care and there is some science that shows nerves can help us perform better. Some advice that I would recommend would be to attempt to put some coping strategies into practice so that your anxiety doesn’t prevent you from holding back from maximum performance and making the most of the opportunity in front of you.

The reality is that there are going to be challenges to every part of your study journey and studying overseas is certainly no exception to this. To ensure you make the most of your study experience overseas, I recommend these six ‘dos’:

  1. Introduce yourself and familiarise yourself with your team.
  2. Be polite.
  3. Seek feedback and be humble when it is given to you.
  4. Be respectful of culture.
  5. Immerse yourself in the culture surrounding you.
  6. Seek opportunities to engage with the locals (through sport, local games, food, talking).

Wherever it may be that you decide to study or complete a placement, I encourage you to be brave enough to grasp opportunities with both hands, as you don’t know if that opportunity will change the course of your life to head in an even better direction. I encourage you to embrace and acknowledge your feelings and emotions, because being human is beautiful and I can testify that my feelings, emotions and passion have set me apart in my nursing career so far. For me, nursing – particularly nursing in a developing country – is the joy of helping someone that can’t help themselves and being humbled by the experience.  I encourage you to search yourself in order to determine whether you have a passion for nursing in developing countries and decipher why that passion is there. From here, if you decide that studying ‘beyond the border’ is something you have an unshakable desire for, I encourage you to look at the information regarding this placement on the professional practice hub site and I wish you the very best.

Studying abroad not only enables you to immerse yourself in a new culture, but, as experienced first-hand by Business student Jasmine, expand your knowledge. If you’re keen on studying abroad or completing a placement overseas, there are scholarships available to you!

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