I arrived at Pokhara Airport after flying over the Himalayas from Kathmandu in a 20 seater propeller plane to meet a member of the Work the World team. What an experience! At this point, I had only been in Nepal for 4 hours. Karuna, the assistant programme manager, guided me to the Work the World house, which would be my home for the next four weeks.
The house was stunning, in a quiet little area of Pokhara, at the foothills of the Himalayas with a view of the Annapurna range from every window. The other students were so welcoming as we sat for dinner. The next day Karuna guided us on a city orientation, showing us the main shopping district, where we could go to eat, Phewa Lake and the Pigeon Temple on the water. This was a great way to see the area from a local's point of view. I was then shown the hospital department I would be working in for the next 4 weeks. I was introduced to my supervising physiotherapist and inducted into MSK Outpatients and Neuro ICU.
The hospital was nothing like I have ever seen before, the lack of resources and number of power cuts was unbelievable. However, the improvisation displayed was inspiring. After a long day on placement, we sat for dinner with the rest of the students and discussed the events of the day. As a student physiotherapist, I enjoyed hearing stories from student doctors, midwives, pharmacists and nurses from all over the world.
Most physiotherapy treatment methods were similar to the NHS here in Scotland for example – stretching and strengthening exercises, electrotherapy, mobilisations etc. However, the quality of treatment you provided depended on how much the patient was willing to spend. Patients paid for their treatment and physio time therefore only people who could afford physiotherapy received it. The most difficult thing to accept was the difference in the patient care as opposed to the treatments used. There was less compassion and dignity around patients care which I believe to be influenced by the society and culture in Nepal.
I have developed multiple skills through this elective. I have a new found confidence when treating patients and meeting new people as I appreciate the ease of communicating in the same language. I have learned ways of improvising my non-verbal communication with hand gestures, clear communication and interpreters for patients who I cannot communication deficits. By adapting to a culturally, environmentally and socially different way of life I am confident in my abilities to adapt to a busy workplace. I have a new appreciation for the NHS with regards to resources, patient centred care and support services have developed a holistic approach to patient care.
All of the skills I have learned on this placement are transferable to everyday life – I haven’t just developed professionally but personally as well.
The most noteworthy experience for me was when I was given the opportunity to observe a child being born. Although midwifery is not my discipline I have a newfound appreciation for what other disciplines do as well as the difficulties mothers face with regards to facilities and resources and patient care.
After having time to settle in I was able to take in the sheer beauty of my surroundings. The scenery was breathtaking and the atmosphere was incredible. The locals were so friendly and the location of the house made me feel as though I was in the heart of a little village. The working environment took a bit longer to get used to. As I mentioned, the lack of resources and power cuts were difficult to adjust to but in time it became normal and I began to get creative. Staff had improvised wheelchairs from plastic garden chairs and bicycle tyres. This, at times, could be overwhelming, however, there were plenty places in along the waterfront at Phewa Lake to relax and reflect.
The personalised planning portal, MyTrip, was so helpful on the lead up to my placement; it kept me in order and organised for booking flights, getting vaccinations and general preparation. There was lots of useful information about what to pack, when to book things, what insurance companies to consider and answers to general questions that I had. However, if there was any information not available on MyTrip, the Work the World team were so helpful via email and phone. I initially chose Nepal as it’s a country I have always wanted to visit. However, on looking into the destination further, I was sure I wanted to base my trip here.
There was so much to do in Pokhara during time outside of placement. As a group, we hiked to the Peace Pagoda, watched the sun setting over the Himalayas from the Sarangot peak. We also took part in white water rafting, paragliding, paddle boarding and zip-lining! We visited various Buddhist monasteries and took part in a chanting prayer session with Tibetan monks. I attended yoga and relaxation classes as well as sound bowl healing.
There were a couple of great bars to go for a drink and a dance but on quieter nights we went as a group to the outdoor cinema which overlooked Fewa Lake at sunset, it was magical!
When booking this trip, I planned for one extra week to explore Nepal after my placement. Had I visited Nepal out-side monsoon season I would have taken longer, and used the time to go hiking around the Annapurna Range. However, one week was long enough to visit Lumbini, Chitwan National Park and Kathmandu. Lumbini is thought to be the birthplace of Buddha where you can visit what is thought to be the tree of life and multiple temples. I then travelled to Chitwan National Park for a safari experience and then finished in Kathmandu where I had a tour of the city.
My advice for students considering a Work the World placement would be to learn the language as much as you possibly can before going. This makes everything much easier and the locals, patients and staff appreciate it so much. Not to mention it helps to build much stronger relationships. Also, try to embrace all aspects of the culture, and try everything at least once! Food, paragliding, trekking, paddle boarding, making the most of your placement…
I have met so many great people from all over the world. Canada, Belgium, England, Scotland, America. It was so interesting to learn all of the different cultures and ways of working as well as make so many good friends that I still keep in contact with today. I couldn't pick one particular experience on this trip that sticks in my mind as every day I had a new, amazing, memorable experience.