Amy is a 3rd-year nursing student from the University of Liverpool. She recently travelled to Sri Lanka on a four-week nursing elective placement to see the differences between healthcare in the UK and in the developing world.

"I travelled to Sri Lanka because I wanted to push myself outside my comfort zone. Experiencing a healthcare setting completely different from the UK really appealed to me.

I spoke with Work the World — an organisation that facilitates overseas healthcare electives — and they created a placement around my specific clinical interests. I spent two weeks on a general medicine ward in a teaching hospital, two weeks in paediatric A&E in a paediatric hospital.

Patients at the latter had travelled from all over the country, as there are very few specialised children’s hospitals in Sri Lanka. There was a huge volume of patients when I first walked into the teaching hospital. Staff seemed relatively calm in spite of this. There were immense queues for clinics and often two or three patients to a bed. That said, local staff gave each patient the time and respect they needed. It never felt rushed or chaotic.

There was something of a language barrier, but I soon found my feet. I used the Sinhala I had learnt, as well as nonverbal communication, to build relationships with patients.

The most noticeable difference between healthcare in Sri Lanka and the UK was, without a doubt, the lack of infection control. Bandages, giving sets and vomit bowls were sterilised and reused. In the UK these are single use. Of course, these items were reused not because there was a lack of understanding about infection control, but because the hospital simply didn’t have the resources. Nothing was wasted. This made me think about and question how we do things back home.

A nursing strike happened while I was on placement. The local nurses went on strike for better resources and facilities. This made me realise how lucky we are the UK to have all the supplies we need to provide good patient care.

My housemates and I spent our evenings taking part in activities around the city - white water rafting, swimming in rivers, visiting Hindu and Buddhist temples, receiving traditional blessings from monks, and visiting elephant orphanages.

Weekend trips were amazing!

We went snorkelling with turtles and sharks off Pigeon Island (and got sunburnt). We went to beach parties. We went on jeep safaris at Arugam bay. And we released baby turtles into the sea at a turtle sanctuary.

But my favourite weekend was our trip to Ella.

We took the train from Kandy and sat by the open door, admiring the most scenic views we’d ever seen. The train took us through hills, tea plantations, valleys… The six-hour journey flew by. We arrived in Ella and discovered that it was the night of the full moon festival! 

We spent the afternoon taking a tuk-tuk tour of Ella, visiting some waterfalls and the famous nine-arch bridge.

We made our way up to the town in the early evening to experience the festival. The traditional music and dancing were fantastic. It happens only once a year. We couldn’t believe our luck! The following morning, we set off on a trek up to ‘World’s End’. At the top, we sat looking down at the 4000 ft drop below.

The trip is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I wish I could do it all over again!"

Work the World specialise in tailoring overseas nursing placements in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their destinations provide eye-opening insight into the challenges associated with delivering healthcare in the developing world.