I’ve always had an interest in nursing overseas, and I had planned to do my elective overseas a couple of years ago. I’d been qualified for a while, but I thought I would just go for it anyway. I went on my own and spent four weeks in Sri Lanka - it was incredible.
I arrived a day early so I could spend time in Negombo in Colombo to adjust myself to the climate. The following day, I went to Colombo Airport wearing my Work the World t-shirt, which was so helpful as the team spotted me immediately. They were there picking up other new arrivals and we travelled together back to the house in Kandy.
I had looked at photos of the Work the World house on MyTrip before I departed, but it was so much bigger and more spacious than I had expected. It was so clean, and all the people in the Work the World team were lovely and accommodating.
I met all the other students who were already on placement when I arrived at the house. It was so nice that everyone spoke English and that everyone was a healthcare student or professional. We all had something in common - healthcare. For those who were from a different country other than the UK, it was interesting to hear about their studies, their placements in their home countries etc.
Before I started my placement, the team took us all on a tour around the hospital so that we could find out bearings and meet the supervising teams. The first hospital I spent time in was enormous. There were so many different buildings. Some of them were a good ten-minute walk apart - the place was huge!
I spent two weeks in the General Paediatric Ward and two weeks in NICU in a specialist Children’s Hospital. It was really interesting - I even saw cases of Dengue Fever, which I have never seen before. I saw cases of severe asthma, and children with other respiratory problems.
The hospital staff were really welcoming and keen to get me involved. Most spoke really good English, and it was fascinating that all patient notes were in English too. The consultants I spent time with all did their ward rounds in English and always asked what I wanted to know about the Sri Lankan healthcare system.
There were many medicines — ones we take for granted in the UK - that the Sri Lankan healthcare system simply didn’t have access to. For example, they had no access to caffeine which we would use with neonates here in the UK. Another example is how we use antibiotics differently - in the UK, if a patient was being discharged following an infection, we’d typically give them up to a week’s worth of antibiotics. In Sri Lanka, patients have to pay for their healthcare. But many of them can’t afford to pay, and although they would be physically given prescriptions, many would not go to the pharmacy to collect the medicine as they wouldn’t have been able to afford it. It is such a contrast to healthcare at home.
Another difference was that nurses in Sri Lanka were in charge of taking stock of their own medicines. In the UK it’s the Pharmacy team’s responsibility. They come to the wards once or twice a week to ensure the teams have everything they could possibly need.
There was one occasion where hydrocortisone was missing from the emergency trolley. I asked when they were due to get more stock and the nursing team simply didn’t know. It’s not a vital medicine and you might not need it on an emergency trolley, but it further highlighted the difference between Sri Lanka and the UK.
That said, they were also really resourceful with reusing equipment. Not in an unsafe way, but in a way we would not be allowed to do in the UK due to certain protocols.
They didn’t have the same number of wards as I’m used to back home. There was no infectious disease unit for example. Everyone was just in the same ward together.
I was most interested in seeing the difference in culture, and how that affected their treatments and practise. The NHS is bound by policies and procedures, so it was fascinating to see there was a lot more freedom in Sri Lanka. That’s not to say they weren’t following local rules - they knew them off by heart. But in some cases it was just a lot more relaxed than at home.
In the UK, I am currently working in a Cardiac & Respiratory Unit, and in Sri Lanka there were a lot of congenital heart conditions that I came across. I got to spend time in their echo department and with their cardiology team, which was a highlight of my placement.
Outside of placement, I had plenty of time to discover the city of Kandy, and some of the bigger travel spots further away.
When I first arrived at the house, the students who were already there were planning their next weekend trip. This happened most weekends. We’d all chat about where we wanted to go and would travel together, which was great fun.
It was so nice living with other healthcare students. It was good to offload following our days on placement. We were all in the same boat. It was also great to meet new people and travel with them during the weekends.
We did the famous Ella to Kandy train ride, spent a weekend in Sigiriya, spent time on the tropical beaches in Trincomalee, and at the end of my placement we went to Galle on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka.
A highlight was staying in a turtle sanctuary for a weekend where we went to release baby turtles into the sea.
There were so many highlights, I can’t pinpoint one thing. All I can say is the country and the people are incredible. It is also really affordable. I did so much travelling and partook in activities outside of placement and really didn’t spend that much compared to what I would have done in the UK.
Sri Lanka is an amazing country. Travelling around is really easy, and travelling with a group of new friends is really good fun!
Gaining nursing experience in a totally different setting overseas (even though I am now qualified) is a once in a lifetime experience, and I would recommend it to anyone.