Work the World visited my University to speak about overseas placements. I knew right away that it was my chance to see what mental health nursing was like in a different country and culture.
I quickly got on the phone to Work the World’s UK team shortly after. We chatted through my options; which destination I wanted to go to, how long I wanted to go for…
I chose to travel to Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka. Having read about the ending of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009, I was interested to see how PTSD was treated there.
When we arrived, the overseas management team took us on a tour of the house. They outlined a typical weekday routine and talked us through what we should expect from our hospital placements.
The team also took us out and about in Anuradhapura. They recommended shops where we could buy souvenirs, showed us where the local supermarkets were, and where the best places to hail tuk tuks were.
The following day, the team took us to our placement hospital for introductions. They showed us around, and then took us to the wards we’d be spending time in, introducing us to staff as we went.
Local staff were as keen to learn about nursing in the UK as we were to learn about nursing in Sri Lanka!
Staff and patients alike were more than happy to interact with us. They asked questions about my family and I, and even invited me to join them in eating their home cooked food.
From the start it was clear that there were real differences between approaches to mental health in the UK and Sri Lanka.
The differences surrounded local attitudes towards patients with mental health illnesses. The nurses on the mental health wards were registered general nurses, so they weren’t aware of therapeutic interventions or empathetic engagements with patients.
Mental health illnesses were most often managed with medication. Patients who were unwell were kept on the wards and not spoken to.
I even attended a clinic at a local prison with the hospital’s Psychiatric Consultant. I saw prisoners suffering from various mental health conditions. Many had been disowned by their families. Seeing the care (or lack thereof) provided in prison was confronting.
By the end of my two-week placement, I realised how efficient the nursing and multi-disciplinary teams were. They coped with huge patient numbers with very little specialist equipment.
I now appreciate how privileged we are to have the NHS at home.
We typically finished placement in the afternoon. This freed up our late afternoons, evenings and weekends to explore Anuradhapura and beyond.
Minneriya National Park was one of my travel highlights. My housemates and I took a jeep from a nearby town to go on an elephant safari at sunset. It was amazing!
Another highlight was our weekend on Nilaveli Beach. We stayed in beach huts on the sand, spending three days in warm, crystal clear seas.
We also went snorkelling on a little island a short boat trip away from where we were staying. Local people were really friendly and accommodating, especially when we told them we were student nurses!
As for the Work the World team, they went out of their way to make sure our placements went well. They were always offering great advice about how to make the most out of our time in Sri Lanka.
The Work the World house was very safe and very sociable. Meeting healthcare students from all over the world was one of the best parts. We became close through being housemates and all looked after each other.
If you’re considering a placement with Work the World, just do it, 100%. Just register on and worry about how you’re going to fundraise after!
Don’t be afraid to go on your own. You’ll meet so many new people that you don’t need to worry about being alone.
I had an eye-opening experience and amazing support throughout. Thank you Work the World!