Following the success of a smaller visit of six students in 2016, 17 second year nursing students from Teesside University – several whom have worked at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust – made the long trip to South East Asia to work with nursing colleagues for the charity Transform Healthcare Cambodia.
Senior lecturer in the department of health and social care at Teesside University Graham Jones, who is also a director of Transform Healthcare Cambodia, led the visit, set up to work with and support colleagues in the Battambang Referral Hospital in Cambodia.
Now back in Teesside after what was for many of the students a life-changing visit, Graham is reflecting on how the July visit went and what was achieved during the 10-day working trip.
Graham said: “We took our first group of students last year. The students go during a two week preferred options placement and have fully funded the trip independently either working additional shifts or fundraised more than £1,000 each to pay for their trip. After the success of the first trip I had students queueing up for the opportunity of joining this trip to Cambodia. For many students this was the first time they’d travelled this far and worked in an environment so different from the health system we have here in the UK.
“The idea of the trip was for students to get to know the nursing staff and student nurses in Battambang. It is as much about learning from our Cambodian colleagues as it is about sharing the skills they have learned.
“All of students had the opportunity to visit different areas such as the pediatrics, obstetrics, intensive care, medical and surgical wards. I was extremely pleased and very proud with the way each and every students conducted themselves during the visit, displaying, curtesy, cultural awareness, knowledge and wonderful communication skill, they did themselves, the charity and the university proud.
“They were very respectful to our Cambodian colleagues who use the resources at their disposal to provide the best possible care for Cambodian patients. They had all read about the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot and how the country has had to basically start again after the professional and educated people in Cambodia were either put to work in the fields or, tragically, killed.
“The students visited the school of nursing in Battambang and gained an appreciation of nurse training in Cambodia and how it compares to nurse training here. Many of them formed friendships and relationships which I hope will last as they continue their training. In my view visits like this enrich the experience of nurse training and help students appreciate different practices and cultures.”
Graham, who has made the trip to Cambodia several times, added: “Twice a year in February and November the charity takes a team of doctors, nurses and other health professionals to Cambodia. We do not go to do operations or carry out treatment. The aim of the charity has always been to support and educate our Cambodian colleagues so they can improve and sustain the healthcare system themselves. I believe this is what makes Transform Healthcare Cambodia different from other health charities.
“Now we have had two student visits and I very much hope they become an annual event because it benefits our Cambodian colleagues and the students who undertake the trip.” “We now also have interest from the University of South Wales (USW) who are extremely keen to work alongside the charity and forge links with our Cambodian colleagues. Paula Hopes Senior Lecturer at USW accompanied me on this latest trip to ascertain if links can be developed with the view of including USW students in future visits.”
Charlotte Govier, 25, from Eaglescliffe was one of the students to make the trip. She said: “It was an amazing experience. I have learned so much about the future and history of the country and appreciate how far they have come but also how far they have to go compared with the healthcare provided in the UK.
“The people were lovely and it was fantastic to go to the school of nursing to see Cambodian students who are also training to be nurses. They are so willing to learn and, in the school as well as in the hospital, they are working to the best of their ability.
“Care of patients is very family orientated; there are lots of things we can learn from that.
“The visit touched me personally as well as affecting me as a student. When I came home, I realised we have everything and we sometimes take that for granted.
“I’d say to any student considering working with the charity in Cambodia to definitely go. It’s totally worth doing, especially as a student. And Cambodia is a beautiful country. I’m thinking of going back, just to have a holiday and the opportunity to visit more places in this incredible country.”
Another student, Claire Wilding, 32, from Hartlepool said: “Initially i found it really hard. For the first four days or so I just cried when I saw how poor the hospital was. The patients were so grateful that you were just there. One day we were talking about the difference between Cambodia and the UK and a man said to me that we might be rich in the UK because we have more things but people in Cambodia are rich because they have big hearts. It made me feel very humble. It was a fantastic experience for me as a student nurse but more I think as person. I’m so glad I went. I now appreciate everything, even tiny things we usually take for granted. People can see a massive change in me.”
After their trip Claire, who didn’t know Charlotte beforehand, was sent on a placement with her in the intensive care unit at the University Hospital of North Tees.