Louise Hartin - Nursing in Mongolia
I am a recently retired nurse and always wanted to work in a less advantaged country then Australia. For many years, Mongolia was a country I had wanted to visit, so after a lot of browsing, I stumbled on the Projects Abroad website. After speaking to one of the staff in the office, I decided to volunteer on a Nursing Project. As a result, I was able to volunteer in the largest and oldest hospital in Ulaanbaatar while encountering a glimpse of the friendly, beautiful city and countryside.
Arriving in Mongolia
When I arrived at the airport, my placement supervisor was waiting for me. He drove me to my host family where another supervisor was waiting to greet me. My home for the next three weeks was an apartment on the fourth floor with no lifts, so I got lots of exercise climbing the stairs. The accommodation was clean and comfortable and my host family provided my meals. However, because I have Coeliac Disease, I took some gluten free (GF) snacks with me as I was not certain if I’d find much GF food in Mongolia - I am glad I did, as there wasn’t!
The day after I arrived in Ulaanbaatar, my project supervisor came to the apartment, showed me how to get to the Projects Abroad office, arranged a sim card, bus pass, money conversion and showed me how to get to my placement. She also showed me some of the major landmarks and tourist spots. I, unfortunately, do not have a great sense of direction so I got lost coming home the first day of my placement…a phone call to my supervisor soon had me heading in the right direction.
Working at the hospital
I worked at a large hospital in Ulaanbaatar and was able to observe many areas and departments, including the operating theatres, intensive care unit, renal dialysis units, and urology ward. I also observed a ‘dressing nurse’ change dressings on wounds that were infected.
In comparison to Australia, the hospital was rundown and in need of a major upgrade but it was very clean - a dedicated group of cleaners attending to the wards every day. The nursing and medical staff are very skilled and adept in their duties; however, the working conditions are different from Australia and the Western World. The patients have no privacy and have to provide their own bed linen, medications, bandages and any aids needed whilst in hospital; something Australian patients take for granted in their own country.
My clinical nursing background is as an operating theatre (OT) nurse and I was able to observe for a couple of days in the OT. I found that the practices were not of the same standards as in Australia, so I compiled a report of my findings and emailed it to the director of nursing at the hospital. Although funding in Mongolia is a major issue, I hope that the hospital staff will be able to implement a few changes.
Assisting in an ambulance
An evening with the ambulance crew was another interesting encounter. The ambulances are very different to the ones here in Australia and are staffed with a doctor and a driver, who may or may not be a paramedic. As in any major city, traffic is abominable and when the doctor got an urgent call, it was a struggle to get to the patient needing assistance. Fortunately, it was not too serious but that we did not know until we arrived to assess the patient. The driver did everything he could to get to the call as quickly as possible.
Teaching high school students
I also conducted a cannulation and intramuscular injection workshop for high school students from various schools around the world. The students were interested in possibly pursuing a career in health and were in Mongolia to obtain an understanding of a different culture. They were very eager and willing to learn and I sincerely hope they follow their passion to become health professionals.
Medical outreach in Ulaanbaatar
A visit to a local area in the poorer district of Ulaanbaatar was very sobering. The people who lived in the building were emaciated and unkempt and were very poor, though extremely grateful that someone was willing to help and care for them. We took blood pressures and I attended to a pressure sore which was probably one of the worst I have seen in 45 years of nursing. A very sad experience, however, it was gratifying that we were able to give some time and aid to these disadvantaged people.
The three weeks went by in a flash because it was so busy. The staff at Projects Abroad were all so helpful and organised many activities for us volunteers to enjoy. I attended a cultural evening with a couple of other volunteers. The evening was an insight into the Mongolian history and heritage through storytelling, music, dance and traditional costumes. The performance was excellent and thoroughly enjoyable. I really could have viewed another performance.
My project supervisor also took me around Ulaanbaatar, showing me the museums and temples by bus and walking. When we were on the bus on our way home, we met a married couple who wanted to sit near me and talk about where I was from. Conversation was a little difficult as I could not speak Mongolian and they could not speak English. However, we did converse with each other through my supervisor. I thoroughly enjoyed their company and as they got off the bus, they gave me a big hug and kiss as if we were long-lost friends. It was a very memorable experience.
Staying with a nomad family
Suren also took me into the country to stay with a nomad family in a ‘Ger’ - the traditional family home of the Mongolians. Although it was cold, wet and windy, the Ger was very cosy. The wife as was so very friendly and hospitable and although language was again a barrier, it did not deter from the genuine warmth she extended to me. Another truly memorable experience.
It was very humbling to see many people from other countries of all ages who volunteered for varying projects in Mongolia. There is a project for everyone and for any duration, and I was lucky enough to spend time with many different volunteers. We often met up for events or group projects and were all willing to share information about each other’s projects.
So much to do, so much to see but so little time to spend in such a wonderful country. A trip close to being one of the best I have undertaken, and one that has made me consider doing a similar project again. If I embark on another project, I would likely do a Care Project so that I would be able to have a more hands-on experience. Although, being in an observing role gave me the opportunity to evaluate the care and practices of the nursing staff, especially in the OT.
Projects Abroad is perfect if you are looking to provide assistance in unprivileged communities and get a better understanding of another culture. It is something that I highly recommend.