Experience: Nursing students in Cambodia

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Danielle Noble writes about a life-changing experience for 12 University of Newcastle nursing students.

We, 12 students and two leaders from the University of Newcastle, set out on a three-week community health placement in Cambodia in January 2014. During our time there, we were with two NGOs (non-government organisations) – People Improvement Organisation (PIO) and Riverkids. At each one we assessed school children and any adults who wished to attend – we saw close to 1400 people in our time at the clinics.

The clinic at PIO was set up on a verandah which was part of the school grounds. The community here are extremely poor. A number of people used to live and work on the nearby garbage dump collecting materials to sell and supporting their family on the money they made.

Our first day at the PIO had us provide an education session to the kindergarten class on brushing your teeth (80 or so children in one class). The children loved singing along to the tooth brushing song, they taught us some songs too.

Our clinical assessments at PIO numbered 800 participants in seven days. Our group was exhausted but still happy to be helping the Cambodians. One thing that was apparent to us all was that the children displayed signs of dehydration – weak pulse, tired and dry lips. As a group we decided to investigate why this was happening – it was apparent these children only had access to one tap to drink from. It was decided to try and help the school with this issue. There was a water tank so we had taps and piping connected up and fed into each classroom so that the children had better access to clean drinking water. We also installed shelves to hold metal cups in the classroom. This was funded by some of our fundraising money.

The experience at PIO was totally humbling – this community was happy and relatively healthy. Tooth decay, lice, coughs and colds were mainly what we saw there, however, some children were known to have HIV.

At Riverkids we saw close to 400 children/adults in three days – we saw more adults here than at PIO. The adults had more complex issues than the children but the nursing students did well adjusting to the changes in what people presented with. The adult issues ranged from diabetes to hypertension, Parkinson’s, breast lumps and mental health concerns.

The main issue we found in Cambodia was that people did not go to their local doctors as they were too expensive or just too hard to get to (transport/geographical issues). People not being able to see their GP or go to hospital was distressing to most of us, as in Australia this is not seen. As a group we donated some of our fundraising money to Riverkids so that medical tests could be carried out for these children as well as using the money for transport to and from hospital or wherever they needed to go for medical care.

Riverkids and the PIO provided us with a sense of what we had gone to Cambodia for. We were assessing huge numbers of people but we had all signed up for this experience and all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Cambodia is a beautiful country and we are thankful to have been able to provide health assessments to a small part of the community. Now to start planning for the next community placement in 2015!

Other Cambodian stories on Nurse Uncut:

Amanda’s story: a nurse volunteer in Cambodia

Cambodia: nurse volunteers needed

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