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Student stories - from Abertay to indigenous Aboriginal health

19 June 2015

Intrepid student nurse Kylie Hourston – from Kinghorn in Fife – is off to Australia this summer, to work with rural Aboriginal communities living near the isolated mining town of Broken Hill.

Last year, she spent part of her summer volunteering in Kenya with the charity First Aid Africa.

Here, she tells us a bit more about this experience, what she’ll be doing when she heads down under, and what is in store for her after graduation in July and upon her return from New South Wales in September.

From forensic scientist to student nurse

“Although I’m a student nurse, I have a previous degree in Forensic Sciences from Abertay.

“I have always had an interest in anatomy and human physiology, however with my previous degree there was a lack of social interaction.

"With nursing, you are rewarded every day, being able to see the difference you make to individuals’ lives. Also, nurses are needed worldwide, so I have always planned to utilise my nursing skills to travel around the world.”

Back to uni

“Returning to university was difficult – I didn't know if I would still be able to write an essay after spending two years traveling in Australia!

“However, with nursing it just all seemed to click into place. I have never before been so passionate about my job! Having the ability to effect decision making in the workplace – as well as having my voice heard and opinions listened to – has been empowering and reassuring.

“Being able to prove I have the knowledge to back up my reasoning, bridging the theory-to-practice gap, and physically seeing improvements before my eyes, reinforces my enthusiasm in nursing every day.”

Volunteering in Kenya

“During the summer holidays in 2013 – after completing my first year of nursing training – I volunteered in Kenya with the charity First Aid Africa.

“I am a volunteer first aider with St Andrews First Aid, and we cover many duties in Scotland such as T in the Park, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and sporting events such as the Commonwealth Games. So combining my love of travel and my background in first aid, I decided to raise the money to travel to Africa.

“After completing an intensive first aid course specifically designed for overseas travellers, I went to Kenya to begin teaching.

“For four weeks I lived in Ndhiwa, a rural town near Lake Victoria, with a small group of volunteers.”

Pumping water, language barriers and using skirts as slings

“Living conditions were pretty basic: we pumped water from a well every morning, tried to avoid being bitten by malaria-carrying mosquitoes and travelled around town on ‘piki-piki’ bikes, which are small motorcycles.

“Everyday we taught basic lifesaving and first aid skills to school children, church groups, piki-piki drivers and anyone else from the area who wanted to learn.

“The willingness to learn was inspiring, although it was often difficult to overcome the language barrier. We used picture posters, demonstrations and a very limited knowledge of the local Kiswahili language.

“We concentrated on providing sustainable training, using local resources – not depending on equipment or kit that the groups did not have access to. So we used sanitary towels as padded bandages, scarves and skirts as slings, and wooden sticks as leg splints.

“I learned how to adapt education delivery, and this is something I have managed to use when providing patients with information while on student placements in the UK. Being comfortable with innovation and encouraging resourcefulness is a positive skill that I hope will stay with me when I am a qualified nurse.”

Return to Aus‌

“Before starting my nursing degree I spent two years in Australia and New Zealand, traveling and working. I spent six months in a remote Australian desert, working in a hotel – and I loved it! I witnessed amazing healthcare clinics providing care to the small township of 14 residents, and it really sparked my interest.

“As part of the nursing course in year three, you are able to organise an elective placement. Some students choose to go back to a ward they have enjoyed, some go to areas in which they hope to work in the future, and sometimes students organise to go overseas.

“It was a no-brainer for me – I couldn’t wait to return to Australia, and I started organising my trip almost 18 months ago.

“It was very difficult and involved emailing every university in Australia in order to find someone who would support me. After much persistence though, it has all worked out and I am due to fly across in July for a five-week placement. I am staying for three weeks afterwards to do some traveling and visit friends.”

Broken Hill

“In Australia, I will be traveling to a small remote hospital in a town called Broken Hill in rural New South Wales. I hope to gain an understanding of global and local health issues, and how health professionals tackle these – in particular indigenous Aboriginal health.

“I will be spending time in their Accident and Emergency during my placement, which has eight beds. Any patient that is critically ill will be stabilised here, and then flown to Adelaide – the nearest city – by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. I am hoping to also spend time with them, flying to remote towns to set up clinics, or as part of an emergency retrieval team.”

Going global!

“I think travel, in general, broadens the mind and would encourage every student to spend some time getting lost in foreign landscapes!

“I was lucky enough to receive a short-term mobility scholarship from Abertay, which has significantly helped with the high costs involved.

“Abertay have completely supported me from the outset in organising my elective placement.

“With nursing, you come across culturally complex situations often, and being open and responsive to these is essential – I believe my previous experiences in submerging myself in other cultures has prepared me to handle these situations in the future.”

Nursing at Abertay

“The nursing lecturers at Abertay have been fantastic throughout my course. Linda Wood and Robin Ion in particular have been so enthusiastic and motivating. When lecturers are so passionate about their work, it empowers students to learn and get involved in the dynamics of classroom learning.

“As well as going overseas, I have completed nursing placements in busy medical admissions units, with district nurses in the community, in mental health assessment units, and most recently in the Queen Margaret hospice in Dunfermline.

“It is a fantastic ward, and I have been supported with my learning by every member of the multidisciplinary team. I am going back to the hospice for six weeks prior to my Australia trip.”

What’s next?

“I am due to start a job in London in an Accident and Emergency unit as soon as I return from Australia, so it is all go for me! I hope to gain a few years’ experience in emergency nursing before going overseas again. I would love to complete humanitarian work, providing aid to those most in need after natural disasters, or countries affected by warfare.”

We wish Kylie all the best of luck with her trip to Australia – and in her new job! It sounds like all her patients will be in very capable and compassionate hands. We will try to keep you up-to-date with any of her future adventures!

To find out more about nurse education here at Abertay please visit our course pages.

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