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Graduate stories - return to Oz

14 October 2015

Earlier this year, we featured one of our student nurses – Kylie Hourston – who was jetting off to Australia after graduation to work with rural Aboriginal communities living near the isolated mining town of Broken Hill.

To find out more about similar opportunities, get involved in Abertay Goes Global this week!

Having spent the previous summer volunteering in Kenya with the charity First Aid Africa, Kylie's goal is to one day complete humanitarian work, providing aid to those most in need after natural disasters, or countries affected by warfare.

With more international experience now under her belt, we caught up with her to find out how she got on.

Intrepid adventures

“During the final year of my nursing degree, there was an option to arrange an elective placement for five weeks. I chose to go to rural New South Wales in Australia to a small hospital in a mining town called Broken Hill. I spent two weeks within their six-bed emergency department, and three weeks in their 27-bed medical ward.

“My first impressions of Broken Hill were how far away from any major city we were – 500km to Adelaide and over 1100km to Sydney. The township just seemed to appear out of nowhere as I flew into the tiny airport.

“Around town, there were lots of buildings boarded up, shops closed down, and many houses in a state of disrepair. And the streets were empty! People seem to drive wherever they need to go, and I got funny looks on a few occasions for walking around the streets – this may also have been because I was in a T-shirt, enjoying the 20 degree winter’s day, whereas the local residents all thought it was freezing!”

Venomous snake bites and wild pigs!

Broken Hill A&E main

“My time spent in the emergency department was fantastic, and I was made to feel so welcome by the small team based there. Since it was winter, it was the wrong time of year for any venomous snake or spider bites, which I was glad of!

“However, I did come across some unexpected things, the most unusual of which was someone who had been mauled by a wild pig – while trying to catch it.

“It was also my first time nursing children – something which I found rather daunting. My nursing role had to adapt in order to assess and treat someone who couldn't really communicate what was wrong or where was sore. Children are so volatile when they are ill, and it became clear that caring for the parents and families was fundamental in order to successfully manage and support them all at a distressing time.

“I also learned about the Australasian Triage Scale, which is used by senior nurses to quickly assess the severity of each person who presents to the emergency department; the difference between their public and private healthcare systems; and how their rural location can influence their treatment options with patients.”

Aboriginal Cultural Awareness

“Of most interest to me was attending an Aboriginal Cultural Awareness teaching session which covered areas such as positive communication and specific Aboriginal health needs, as well as the health disparities and stigma faced by Aboriginal clients that sadly still exists in today’s modern healthcare delivery.

“The training course was delivered by Aboriginal health workers, whose role is to provide holistic and culturally specific support, advocacy and health promotion services to Aboriginal patients within both the hospital and community settings. Compulsory for all staff and students, the course was an informative introduction to the cultural norms, and the communication dos and don’ts were an essential component to avoid non-offensive spoken word and body language.

“Similar student teaching sessions occurred once weekly, and all disciplines were invited to take part – students of medicine, nursing, speech pathology, dietetics, and physiotherapy. Topics included medication misuse, creative writing in healthcare, chest drain insertion and communicating bad news – a complete variety, and very well attended by all students which helped create the multidisciplinary team approach to problem solving.”

Life on the medical ward

“Within the Broken Hill medical ward, I came across nurses with 20 years of remote nursing experience, as well as newly graduated nurses in their first year of the job. With such a diverse mix, it was great to be able to work alongside them all as they brought such different ideas and ways of working to the table.

“It became clear to me that nursing students in Australia do not get as much practical placement time working on the wards and putting clinical skills into action as I have been allowed during my university undergraduate degree in Scotland.

“Nurses were impressed with my confidence and initiative as well as my communication within the team and to patients and their families. As lovely as it was to hear, I couldn’t help comparing my theoretical knowledge to the Australian students and newly qualified nurses. From reading electrocardiograms and X-rays, to cellular level descriptions of diabetic ketoacidosis, and using stethoscopes to complete respiratory assessments, their in-depth knowledge was impressive.”

Ambulance experience

“Another highlight was spending the day as a ‘ride-along’ observer with the ambulance service. We were called to eight incidents during my eight-hour shift – a busy day!

“Call-outs included attending to an elderly patient who was hypothermic as he couldn’t afford to put the heater on; a homeless woman who was found unresponsive in an abandoned house; transferring a patient from the intensive care unit at the hospital to the Royal Flying Doctor Service for transport to Adelaide for surgery; and verifying a death – something rural paramedics are able to do due to the lack of medical professionals available.

“I enjoyed the day, learning about the initial treatment given prior to presenting at the emergency department, and being nosey at all the equipment kept in the ambulances! It gave me a full picture of the emergency patient’s journey prior to reaching the hospital, further insight into the socio-economic problems facing many of Broken Hill’s population, and a new understanding of the paramedic’s role.”

Going global

“Overall, my time spent in Australia was incredibly informative and confirmed my desire to travel with my nursing qualification, and to hopefully one day be able to work as a remote nurse in the middle of nowhere.

“Although I would love to work in Australia as a nurse in the future, my main objective for going was to gain a better understanding of global health issues, to experience nursing outside of the NHS system, and to develop my confidence by working in a completely unfamiliar culture and environment.

“My elective placement took almost two years to organise and was expensive too. However, due to unwavering support from staff at Abertay, as well as receiving a Short-Term International Mobility Scholarship from the university, the experience has been undeniably worthwhile.

“I would recommend all students seek out experiences such as this – submerge yourself in another culture, get out of your comfort zone, and learn to be resourceful and adaptable to change.”

Kylie has just begun her first post as a registered nurse in A&E in a hospital in North West London. We look forward to hearing about the next chapter in her life – with Heathrow just nine miles from where she will be staying, there are sure to be more overseas adventures in the future!

For more information about studying at Abertay, please visit our courses page.

To find out more about studying abroad, please visit our International pages, or drop in on one of the Abertay Goes Global events taking place this week.

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