Students board YWAM vessel

Forget stepping out of your comfort zone, James Cook University’s nursing and midwifery students have jumped on a boat and sailed out of their comfort zone, by taking part in Youth With a Mission’s (YWAM) Medical Ship initiative to Papua New Guinea.

One in four of the pacific nation’s children under the age of 15, which comprise 43 per cent of the total population, won’t live to the age of 40.

Almost 90 per cent of the country’s population live in remote areas made difficult to access by rivers and other rough terrain, so the vessel provides an invaluable service.

Nursing students sailed out of their comfort zones and all the way to Papua New Guinea to deliver healthcare to remote areas.

Nursing students sailed out of their comfort zones and all the way to Papua New Guinea to deliver healthcare to remote areas.

JCU Nursing and Midwifery Senior Lecturer Dr Marie McAuliffe said the experience has proven to be a formative one for students, as they discover their own styles of administering their healthcare skills.

“Before we went, I think the reasons the students wanted to go was to have an adventure, and to have experiences somewhere different to an Australian healthcare setting,” Marie said. “I took some notes while I was watching students in their practice and things that I saw was about how they drew things out of their own personal strengths to work in the low resource setting of remote PNG.

“Their resilience, their ability to adapt and work in teams was evident. It was just phenomenal to watch each student’s growth which happened really quickly, and it happened really quickly because the students were really well prepared for professional practice but just hadn’t had a chance to practice their skills in a different type of setting.”

The remote location of many of PNG’s villages and the terrain of winding rivers and dense forest presents challenging working conditions that students got to experience and learn from during their YWAM outreach. The commitment of these budding nurses and midwives to the areas of rural, remote, and tropical health provided a huge benefit for the communities they visit.

“These are very remote villages and there is no other health care,” Marie said.  “On one of our two week out-reaches we completed over 4000 childhood immunisations. For most of the people, most of the time, women have no access to any maternity care, there is no access to medical care in most of the villages.

“For our students, they get to work much more autonomously in a primary healthcare setting, under supervision obviously. They get to experience, not only true autonomous experience, but they get to practice their skills in a really high level way.”

Due to Papua New Guinea's rough terrain, water access is often the only way to deliver healthcare to remote communities.

Due to Papua New Guinea's rough terrain, water access is often the only way to deliver health care to remote communities.

The experience proves invaluable for the students, in that it not only tests their skills, but illustrates just how much they know from studying at JCU.

“They learned to recognise that they do have high-level knowledge and skills, and they can apply those skills in any setting,” Marie said. “In a high-resource setting, say one of our major hospitals, there is lots of equipment and backup and sometimes students just don’t realise just how much they do know and what they can do.

“When you’ve got a low resource setting where all you’re relying on is your knowledge and skills, you realise how much you do know and how much you can do.”

JCU’s participation in the YWAM Medical Ships program is in its first year, but will also be running in 2019 and hopefully beyond.

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