Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Project HOPE Volunteers Teaching and Listening in Papua New Guinea

Jan, a Project HOPE volunteer nurse from Dallas, TX, sent me an email yesterday with a wonderful story about teaching nurses in Papua New Guinea and the common stresses nurses across the world share. The story is below--enjoy!


What a great privilege to participate in an educational exchange with the nursing staff at The Port Moresby General Hospital in Papua New Guinea. After being at sea for eight days I was ecstatic to learn that I would be setting my feet on solid ground, if only for a few hours. As the two U.S. Navy nurses and I arrived in the tiny open classroom, around nine in the morning, there were already five nurses that stayed over from the night shift eagerly waiting to hear what we had to say. Soon others joined, ranging from nursing students to very experienced nurses, representing a wide variety of specialties. By the looks of the crowds waiting outside the hospital gate to be seen in the emergency room alone when we arrived, I was not surprised to learn that most of our audience was cross trained to function in multiple areas of the hospital. What followed in that modest classroom will forever elicit fond memories of my new friends and colleagues in Papua New Guinea.

I have taught continuing education courses for nursing staff in the hospital where I work in Dallas, Texas, as well as formal nursing courses in the university. In stark contrast, I have never seen such enthusiasm for learning as I witnessed that morning. Every participant listened with intensity to lectures covering topics from patient assessment to triage during disasters. The hour that we were scheduled to speak soon turned into three as we began to talk about a common bond that nurses all over the world share—work related stress. Most nurses in the U.S. prefer to label this phenomenon as "overworked and underpaid." As almost all of the twenty or so nurses eagerly shared their personal work experiences, especially those related to patient deaths, the three of us soon realized that we were in a full blown critical stress debriefing session. Coping with the severity of nursing shortages, lack of equipment, supplies, and other resources in Papua New Guinea is beyond imagination to the average nurse at home. Even though we facilitated the discussion by offering healthy ways to deal with stress, I sensed that simply listening and validating their concerns was worth so much more. The session may have continued for hours had the charge nurse not reminded the staff that they must return to work.

Prior to departing back to the comfort of my temporary home on the USNS Mercy, a staff nurse by the name of Rose offered me a cup of tea. For a few moments we engaged in livelier talk of the effects of chewing beetle nut, a Papua New Guinea equivalent of a double shot espresso from Starbucks. Then she briefly disappeared, returning with something tucked under her arm. She proudly handed me a small shoulder strap bag made from a fibrous straw material with a distinct design. She went on to explain that this bag was not made in a factory, rather by hand, and the design was unique to her village only. How humbling that someone with so little was so willing to give what I suspect was her personal possession to a stranger. I did not find a beetle nut inside as I had hoped, but this simple gesture, along with warm smiles and hugs from my nursing colleagues in Papua New Guinea will be an experience I will forever cherish.


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