In my third year of nurse training, I undertook an elective placement in Arequipa, Peru, with an organisation called Work The World.
I was initially reluctant to go abroad for my elective, but I am so glad that I did - it was an eye-opening experience that will really help make me the best nurse I can be.
My placement was at the government Hospital, in the city centre, which has been in operation since 1912. My placement was in the emergency department, where I had the opportunity to work across many different specialties, including trauma and surgery.
As most of the staff and patients at the hospital spoke Spanish, communication was a slight challenge. I knew the basics of Spanish, and some medical terms, but had to use my non-verbal communication skills more than I would back in England. I managed though, and cared for my patients to the best of my ability.
The hospital had very few resources due to lack of funding, but the doctors and nurses really made the most of what they had. This made me realise how lucky we are to have the resources we do in England, and I now appreciate this so much more.
I was overwhelmed by some of the procedures I observed, and felt sad at times when I compared the patients’ experiences with those of patients in the UK. But I went into this experience with an open mind and a non-judgmental attitude, and just did my best to help wherever I could.
One of the things I found hardest to get my head around, however, was the lack of privacy and dignity in patient care. When I was helping to wash a female patient, others in the bay could see. This was both male and female patients because unlike in the UK, men and women shared the same bays in the hospital in Peru.
The lack of sterilised equipment was also quite a shock - plastic fluid bottles were recycled and cut into trays to be used for other procedures. Having been taught at university, and on clinical placements in the UK, to practise in a sterile way, this was very strange for me.
Although the hospital did not have the most up-to-date equipment, it was obvious that the staff were dedicated to their patients, and were doing their best within limited working conditions.
The ward was short staffed, and they appreciated my help from day one. They wanted me to learn and get involved in as much as I could, so this is what I did, embracing every opportunity that came my way.
As well as learning new skills, I gained a lot of confidence from this experience, and now feel much more prepared to start my nursing career. It was extremely rewarding, and I would encourage any nursing student considering going abroad for their elective to go for it, and experience a different culture and a different way of working.