After a year working as a Staff Nurse in the accident and emergency department at her local hospital, Jordan took the plunge and travelled to Takoradi for the experience of a lifetime.
What was it that made you want to study nursing in the first place?
I don’t think there’s one specific answer. I’d always wanted to do nursing for as long as I could remember.
I remember my first tour of Glasgow Caledonian University and one of the first presentations I saw was about Work the World placements and that was before I’d even got into university. And I just remember thinking to myself, I really want to do that.
You went on to study at Glasgow Caledonian University. What was it that attracted you to the university?
It was close to home. But, it also felt really open and friendly. The connections they had with other organisations was really attractive to me.
The fact that they were open to letting their students do things like study abroad, go on overseas placements and things like that really appealed to me.
How did you find your nursing degree?
I loved it. I really enjoyed the placements and the coursework and being around other people that were like-minded. We all had something in common and it made the whole experience a lot easier.
You decided to travel with us after you had graduated. Why was that?
It was purely a financial decision. I was still working part-time and travelling back home quite a lot too. I’d also never been abroad before or even been on a plane. So, I think with everything going on with university work too, it just felt a bit much. And time just gets away from you.
But, once I’d graduated and I was in a stable job I just thought this is the right time for me. I could afford it and I felt more confident since I had graduated and had a bit more experience.
So, did you remember Work the World from your time at university?
Yes! I had enquired before whilst I was still studying at university. Then once I’d graduated I just got back in touch.
Originally I thought the placements were just for students – I wasn’t aware that you could also do it once you’d qualified as well. So, I was really excited when Work the World said I could do it that way. I think I booked it the next day!
Would you have considered arranging your trip independently?
No, definitely not. I had never been abroad and Work the World gave me the confidence to do it. All I had to do was sort out my flights.
Knowing someone was going to meet me from the airport and I had somewhere to stay – it just felt less stressful. I don’t think I would have had a clue what to do.
That’s quite impressive that you went on a trip like this for your first time abroad! What made you want to go overseas on an experience like this?
I think because I had never been abroad before, I was just really curious. I just wanted to see what it would be like.
Also once I’d graduated and started working in a very small local hospital I started to notice some big differences compared to when I was doing placements at university in the city. I noticed how different things were and it made me curious to see how nurses worked in other places across the world, the positions they had, the skills they had. And I just thought, now is the time to do it.
Was there anything that worried you about going overseas for your placement? If so, how did you overcome this?
The travel side worried me the most because I’d never been on a plane before. But knowing a member of the Work the World team would be on the other side to meet me was really comforting.
Plus, everyone was so friendly. It was really helpful to have the Work the World team there to introduce me to other people in the house and the staff at the hospital. It was also really reassuring that Work the World worked so closely with the hospital. I think it would have been really daunting if I had to introduce myself to all these people alone.
What made you choose Ghana for your placement?
I was actually really stuck between Tanzania and Ghana to start with and I really couldn’t decide. I loved the idea of experiencing nursing in both countries, and Tanzania had some great activities you could do outside of placement too.
However, there was a doctor that I was working with in A&E at the time. He was from Ghana and explained to me how different Ghana would be compared to the UK and how much of an eye-opening experience he thought I would have out there. That’s what drew me to Ghana in the end.
It was definitely the right choice for me too. The people I met were so friendly and I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I’d gone somewhere else. Especially as I went by myself, I was really nervous but it helped to have these people around me.
When you landed in Ghana and you walked off the plane, what were your first impressions? And can you remember what the first 24 hours were like?
Getting off the plane I felt quite overwhelmed as it was a brand new experience. I couldn’t believe I’d done it. But when I saw the Work the World representative wearing the blue t-shirt I was very relieved. I felt so much calmer.
We got to the hotel we were staying in that night in Accra and headed out for dinner. It was explained to us that we would be getting the bus the next day to take us to Takoradi and that we’d be taken to our placement hospital and introduced to the staff there.
It was nice knowing the plan and that it had all been organised. The Work the World team made sure everything that we needed was there, that we would go to the right places at the right time.
There were five of us that arrived on the same day and we all travelled to Takoradi together. I remember getting to the Work the World house and thinking how amazing it looked. It was a great big house and there was a nice pool too.
We were shown to our rooms and I remember thinking what a calm environment it was. I shared a room with another graduate who was a midwife.
Where was your placement? What departments did you spend your time in?
My placement was in the regional hospital in Takoradi. My first week I split between paediatrics and the neonatal unit. With a day in A&E too.
I also did some of the outreach clinics. I did a day in the HIV clinic and then I did a day with one of the midwifery students.
What was the day-to-day like in your placement?
Every morning everyone would share a taxi to the hospital and then we’d all head off to our different departments for the day.
I was the only person from the Work the World house on my ward which was nice. In Ghana, nurses didn’t really take part in ward rounds, but it was great because I was still able to join in. The chance to go on the ward round allowed me to get more involved in the clinical side of things and learn about conditions rarely seen in the UK, such as sickle cell.
And whilst you were in the hospital, what do you think were the most striking differences between nursing in Ghana and nursing in the UK?
I found the differences in A&E striking because the nurses in Ghana only do vital signs and more basic tasks. Which was very different from what I was used to doing back home.
Because I work in a very small hospital in Scotland, nurses do a lot. We’re all ELS trained, we can all do IVs and cannulas and things like that. But in Ghana, these jobs are only carried out by the doctors.
I think since I’ve been home and the more I’ve got into my career as a nurse the more I appreciate the differences. Of course, at the time I was a bit shocked. But now that I have more experience it’s made me more appreciative of my training and the skills I’ve been able to develop here in the UK.
It sounds like the role of the nurse was really quite different in Ghana…
Yes. I didn’t see many nurses doing personal care whilst in Ghana either.
It was very family orientated and the patients’ families would take on a lot of the responsibility of personal care. Which was very different because it is such a massive part of nursing at home in the UK.
What were the most interesting or noteworthy cases you saw during your placement? Are there any particular patients that spring to mind?
I remember being on the neonatal unit with a medical student and we would always arrive early to the ward every morning and we’d wait for the staff to arrive (we got very used to Ghanaian time – it was rare for people to be on time)!
One morning when we arrived there was an alarm going off. Fifteen minutes later all the nurses appeared and told us that the alarm was because the oxygen had run out. We immediately got into a panic because all these babies had been without oxygen for however long.
The nurses remained very calm and reassured us that the doctor would do it when they started at 9am – it was only 8:30am at the time! They simply explained that that was the way things were done there.
That’s the thing that stands out to me the most – how relaxed the staff were. Whereas, over here in the UK we would have been in such a state of panic if that had happened. But it’s a cultural thing.
Do you think the experience changed your approach the rest of your nursing career?
Definitely. Before this experience, I was probably quite a nervous nurse. Everything had to be done exactly right and everything had to be on time.
The Ghanaian’s relaxed approach to everything – I took it home with me. Obviously not to the same extent, but I learnt how to remain calm and prioritise the really important things. I learnt that if a bit of paperwork didn’t get done until after I’d done my IVs nothing bad would happen.
I’ve got a lot more confident. I’m confident that I do know my job. I know what needs to be done immediately and what can wait. I think that’s really what I took from it.
So, what is your current role?
I work in Accident and Emergency. I’ve not long been back since returning from maternity leave, so I’ve come back during quite a strange time. I think it’s daunting returning from a year off anyway, but given the recent changes due to Coronavirus, it’s been extra daunting going back.
It’s the very subtle changes of not having patient visitors in the hospital and having to wear additional PPE that I’ve found the most different.
And do you think your experience in Ghana helped you with working through a pandemic like this?
Definitely. Two years ago I was diagnosed with OCD and it’s been extremely hard at work because I went from somebody who really loved getting in amongst it to somebody who was actually really scared of having contact with blood and wounds.
But, I always remember thinking I’ve been to Ghana in an HIV clinic where we didn’t really have access to PPE other than the gloves we took out there ourselves and I didn’t really think about it.
I always draw on my experience in Ghana and I think to myself if I managed in Ghana where there were limited resources, then I can manage here with all the extra equipment and the procedures and the protocols we have. I definitely always look back and think okay I can do it. You did it then, you can do it now.
Do you have any words of encouragement for anyone thinking about undertaking an overseas placement?
I would definitely recommend it. It's always going to be a bit scary experiencing something so different, but the support you have from the other students and the Work the World team makes things so much easier.
If it's something you’re thinking of organising yourself, I’d definitely take some time to think how stressful that might be. To have your meals sorted for you, and someone organising how you’re getting to the hospital and keeping an eye on you just makes the whole experience more enjoyable.
For me, rather than looking back and thinking I spent the whole time worrying about how I was getting from place to place or what I was going to be doing day to day, I look back and remember the actual experience for the experience itself – not the minor details.
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Want to go on a trip like Jordan's? Choose your discipline below to get started!