Heather is a 3rd year nurse from the University of Hertfordshire. As part of her Mental Health Nursing course, she recently travelled to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania on a four-week nursing elective placement to see the differences between healthcare in the UK and in the developing world.
In this post, Heather shares her experience with us, demonstrating just how valuable placement opportunities during study are.
"My university pointed me towards an elective organisation called Work the World after I expressed an interest in undertaking my nursing elective in a developing country.
I spent hours looking through their destinations, and read lots of their student reviews.
I was particularly attracted to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Mental health nursing students who had previously travelled there had written about how great their experiences were.
The months leading up to my trip were exciting, but nerve-racking, but the local team were there to greet me at the airport after a long flight to Tanzania. This really settled my nerves.
We visited our placement hospital the following morning. We travelled there by ‘dala dala’ — a local Tanzanian bus, which was quite an experience.
This is when I first started to embrace Dar es Salaam’s culture, and the friendliness of the local people. A local man gave up his seat for me, and it stands out as a wonderful memory to this day.
I had in my head to keep an open mind — I knew things were going to be very different from the UK.
The Work the World team took me to the mental health department where I met department staff.
They showed me around different areas including male and female wards, an acute ward, an outpatient clinic, and a methadone clinic. I really felt welcomed by the staff, and they made me feel as though I was part of the team from day one. It really reflected the culture and friendliness of Tanzanian people.
I learned that I could spend my four week placement rotating around the different areas in the department.
I spent my first week in the methadone clinic, and then rotated around the wards and the outpatient clinic.
As I expected, it was very different to the services we provide at home. The staff were incredibly friendly, and willing to teach when I demonstrated proactivity. Trying to use Swahili (even when I got it wrong) seemed to help too.
Local staff worked with far fewer resources than we have in the UK. I kept in mind that they were doing their best with what they had, as the inpatient wards were incredibly different to ours.
There was a distinct lack of space, and resources. This was initially a shock, but I persevered because I found that staff still demonstrated kindness and compassion to their patients.
There were times I was shocked by some of the treatments. However, speaking with staff I began to understand the reasons behind why certain treatments were used.
Spending time in such a low resource setting made me truly grateful for what we have in the UK. And in spite of the limitations, local staff offered fantastic care that will influence my own practice as a nurse.
I spent my evenings and weekends exploring Dar es Salaam, and Tanzania more broadly.
I wanted to find out as much about the culture as possible. We often walked down to the seashore in the evenings. And there was karaoke one night a week at a bar just down the beach.
One weekend, we took a boat to a local island for a day of sunbathing and beach fun. On another weekend, a group of five of us visited Zanzibar. It was absolutely amazing and I highly recommend it.
We went on boat trips, visited historical sites, sunbathed, and even managed to fit in some shopping.
Going on safari really was a once-in-a-lifetime-experience. We saw lions, giraffes, elephants, zebras, and many other animals. It was one of my favourite experiences in Tanzania. Even the sunset over the national park was beautiful.
In fact, every moment was fantastic. I thought I’d get homesick, but I didn’t at all. And now that I’m home, I am always dreaming of going back!"
To find out more about placement opportunities during study and our Nursing Mental Health courses, visit the University's website, herts.ac.uk.