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Nursing Elective in Sri Lanka by Katherine Hewett

Cooking lessons

First of all I need to start by saying that my trip to Sri Lanka was one of the most amazing experiences of my life; such a horribly cliché statement but honestly true!

For part of my nursing degree I decided to do my elective placement abroad with another friend from university. We really had no idea where to go, but randomly decided on Sri Lanka – I still can’t remember why we chose here, but we are forever pleased that we did! What a place!

First Impressions of Sri Lanka

Hiking in Sri Lanka

After flying all through the night with one change, we finally arrived and were driven straight to a hostel for a sleep before moving on to Panadura to live with the Bandara family. They are the loveliest family and you should consider yourself lucky if you get to live with them! Don’t miss out on Mrs Bandara’s food – truly delicious, I miss it so much! Panadura is not a very big town, but the Fab café does yummy cakes and the locals are friendly.

My Nursing Placement

Our first placement was in the Kethumati Women’s hospital working with the midwives, nurses and doctors in the labor room. This was quite an eye opener, not quite the NHS! I would definitely recommend a few days minimum in this area as you can see some really interesting deliveries and the longer you spend there the better relationship you create between the different staff members. By the end of our placement we had witnessed lots of births; some more complicated than others, and played with lots of babies! We also learnt about the care of the mother and got to go to theatres, SCBU and baby clinics as well as the women’s wards pre and post-delivery. The staff were all so sweet despite the occasional language barrier. Although they seemed to enjoy teaching us Sinhalese our terrible accents made them laugh so much!

Nursing elective

Our second month was spent on the children’s ward in Panadura Base Hospital. This was very interesting and again quite different from back at home. We played games and sang silly songs with the children and learnt about the style of Sri Lankan nursing from the staff; interestingly one was a student too, who was studying very similar theory to us. I hadn’t realized how much I had taken away from this nursing experience until I was back in practice in the UK; I am so glad that I had the opportunity to learn in this limited-resource setting, it has been invaluable for my practice.

Host Family

What a fantastic host family we had, they are truly special people! I cannot thank them enough for being so kind and generous. Not only was our room (I shared with my university friend) private and comfortable, we also felt relaxed enough to use the sitting room as a chill out area too. Our strict daily diary writing regime was always better done in the more sociable areas downstairs. I’m so glad that I have a good record of our trip - it makes me so happy and I find myself laughing aloud every time I pick it up! The Bandaras taught me so much about their lives and culture. The hours of hearing stories and chatting was time well spent; I can even picture myself now at the dining table hearing about the beginning of Buddhism and how to cook coconut sambol.

Host family breakfast

Highlights of the trip

Sri Lanka is such a beautiful country to explore, although a lifetime would not be long enough! Definitely get out there on your weekends off and don’t be shy at contacting other volunteers; everyone was so friendly and the more the merrier for trips away. I would certainly advise initially arriving to the country early week so that you have time to plan your first weekend away with others – ours was in Unawatuna and we had a blast. I wish I could spend every weekend there! We had no idea where to travel but thankfully we got ideas off our host family and other volunteers when we arrived. Be prepared for some hilarious bus journeys and I promise you will get the hang of it and eventually get to your destination.

Volunteer trip

The whole trip was incredible! It will not disappoint I promise! If it is your university elective, think of it as an investment. It was in fact so brilliant that I am sending my parents to travel to Sri Lanka – very uncharacteristic of them but too beautiful to miss out on! The trips to the beaches, hours of surfing (although mostly just slashing around), cultural places, the cities, national parks, tea plantations and even the 7km hike in the middle of the night (pure darkness with only a few torches, eleven friends plus a guide and four stray dogs for company!) up Adams Peak were all amazing and will be treasured experiences for life.

Do not hesitate – choose Sri Lanka and enjoy it to the maximum! Also, if you can, leave yourselves some time to spare at the end of your project – if you have made it all the way across the world to Sri Lanka, hop on a quick flight and visit some other areas in Asia, maybe Thailand and Laos as they are fun too.

Katherine Hewett

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