How do I even go about trying to sum up my experiences from the past month in the Philippines with Work the World (WTW)? Utterly fantastic, unbelievable, and incredible, are how I would describe the memories that will remain with me for life.
As the newest WTW programme, I chose Iloilo in the Philippines because I wanted to experience a healthcare environment abroad that had not already had a regular presence of numerous British nursing students like myself. With a great percentage of our UK nursing work force made up of Filipino nurses, I also wanted to gain first hand appreciation and understanding of how their culture impacts the care, skills and abilities that they contribute to our healthcare system.
My first 3 weeks in the large referral hospital in Iloilo were eye opening to say the least. Having been endorsed to the Orthopaedic Ward on our orientation day, I experienced a heightened level of nerves building up to my first shift. The shock of hearing that it would be 1 nurse plus myself to 30 orthopaedic patients awaiting surgery, with no manual handling equipment or allied healthcare professional support such as physios - coupled with my preconception of communication difficulties due to the language barrier - lead to a very broken night's sleep. Leaving the safety blanket of the other students in the group, it took a great deal of courage to get my legs to move the bag of nerves that I had become into the direction of the ward. The vulnerability I felt opened my eyes to how patients must feel when coming into nursing care. Therefore on my arrival at the ward, I could not have been more grateful for the friendly welcoming I received from both the nurse on duty and the patients, who, despite their clear discomfort, maintained an incredibly positive attitude towards me throughout my time on the ward. Spending the week witnessing how the Filipino culture impacts on care was remarkable, with relatives and family friends carrying out an overwhelming amount of what is usually deemed nursing duties back in the UK, I felt overcome with emotion watching the devotion and support to their loved ones.
I believe Filipino people truly are the most welcoming and friendly nation
Like in Accident & Emergency at home, my time in the emergency room during my 2nd and 3rd weeks was as unpredictable as expected. Although witnessing a vast amount of cases and approaches to care which I have never had exposure to during my UK placements, it was the ER team of nursing staff who helped build my lasting memories from my time there. I believe Filipino people truly are the most welcoming and friendly nation and during my 2 weeks in this department, I felt 100% acceptance into their team, which was wonderful to experience during my relatively short time there. The advice I would give is to always be as pro-active as possible; otherwise the nurses may often be too polite to ask you to do anything! However by actively seeking to put myself into new situations, I gained an incredible amount of confidence through my involvement in patient care, even increasing my understanding through ad hoc teaching sessions from nurse Domique who has an unbelievable wealth of knowledge should any of you heading to Iloilo with WTW ever meet him!
Although at times the differences from UK healthcare to Filipino provision were shocking, I found there was always something positive to take away from every situation that arose. The nursing ability to improvise and think outside the box when resources were not available was greatly admirable. Although I often found myself unable to clinically practice exactly what or how I would in the UK, the situations I witnessed have helped reinforce what I have been taught theoretically about preferred approach to care, giving me a huge appreciation of how developments in care have evolved over time in western healthcare. One of the greatest lessons I will take back to my practice at home is the importance of involving family in care and how holistic care can bring numerous benefits for the patient, taking into account importance of religion and culture.
During time-off in Iloilo there is an endless amount of opportunities to choose between. From cultural heritage to untouched natural beauty, the Philippines truly has something for everyone. With it’s beautiful, vast, whiter than white sand beaches, enough water sports to fill up hours on end for any adrenaline junkie and its numerous beach bars where you can laze away in the evenings listening to home grown reggae bands watching the sun go down over the ocean, Boracay is understandably the must do for every visiting student.
I could not describe in words the sights we were blessed with when we arrived in this small northern coastal village.
However if you can find that adventurous spirit within you to break the mould of what’s been done before, your challenge will be more than rewarded. Spurred on to find the oceanfront tranquillity we had read about in the lonely planet guide, myself and my course mate who was completing her elective with me, journeyed to El Nido, Palawan. After the travel, which in itself was an adventure, I could not describe in words the sights we were blessed with when we arrived in this small northern coastal village. The weekend was spent exploring the maze of uninhabited islands that make up the Bacuit archipelago, skimming along the waves in traditional Filipino "bangkas" (boats). The rugged topography made up of towering limestone cliffs felt almost post-apocalyptic, providing the perfect backdrop in which to both unwind and seek adventure. From snorkelling in lagoons, lounging in hammocks on beaches, which were just impossibly picturesque, to barbecue lunches on the water's edge of Snake Island, it was without a doubt the most beautiful place I have yet to find on earth.
For my final week, I had pre-chosen to visit Guimaras Island for the Village Experience. Although only there a short 5 days due to our extended stay in Iloilo for Dinagyan Festival the weekend before (totally incredible also!), my time with the family we stayed with and the village community as a whole was unforgettable. To accept two strange foreign nursing students into their family life the way they did takes an incredibly special family and that is the only way I could describe mama, papa and my lifelong sisters I have been blessed to gain in Kati-kati village.
The hospital and clinic experience I gained during the week was great, especially to see the difference from Iloilo, of how provision for rural, indigenous communities impacts on healthcare however it was the involvement and activities with the village people that made the week for me. Witnessing their innocent, simple yet perfectly carefree lifestyle has left a lasting impact on my outlook on life and I will never forget the warm welcome and acceptance that they showed towards me during my time as their "manang" (sister). I truly could not recommend the Village Experience enough, and I feel every WTW student in the Philippines should participate in this week, not just for the different healthcare understanding you will gain but also for the cultural appreciation that will develop naturally within you as the days go by.
Thank you so much to the team at Work the World. You have all been more than incredible and I am so grateful for all the work and effort you have put into giving the experience of a lifetime. I can’t wait to return to the Philippines again in the future!