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Silver lining

Our nurses are passing on their knowledge to their East Timorese counterparts. By Aileen Macalintal

A trip to East Timor made clinical educator Barry Flynn realise just how lucky we are.

Flynn, who has worked with Aboriginal communities and refugee populations in the Ballarat area, went to the fledgling country for a nursing development program.

“The first impressions of poverty and general lack of hygiene within the hospital and the community opened my eyes and made me appreciate how fortunate we are,” he said.

Flynn has been part of the Nursing Development Program of Perth-based St John of God Health Care to help improve health outcomes in East Timor.

Recently SJGHC received about $250,000 from an oil and gas exploration and production company for a development program to boost training opportunities for Timorese nurses.

The donation, from ConocoPhillips and venture partners, means ongoing support for nurse trainers like Flynn and for hospital-wide training in Dili – the first since the country’s independence in 2002.

The investment will also fund training places for Timorese nurses at some of Australia’s best hospitals.

Anne Russell-Brown, group director of St John’s Social Outreach and Advocacy, said the aim of the NDP was for all hospital patients in East Timor to get long-term benefits of reduced mortality and morbidity and decreased hospital stays.

She said the upskilling of nurses through the investment from ConocoPhillips and its partners in the Bayu-Undan project, would focus on areas with the highest morbidity and mortality, to maximise the impact of health development and improve patient outcomes.

“It is important to note that the impact of the NDP will accrue as a result of a sustained effort over many years,” she said.

“Combined with the successful implementation of SJGHC’s Pathology Development Program in East Timor, our programs have the potential to improve health outcomes across the whole population of more than one million people.”

SJGHC’s commitment to health care in East Timor started in 2004 through the PDP, a national initiative.

The need to improve lives can be felt in the experiences of the nurses who have participated in the NDP.

Flynn said he had a culture shock at first. “Coming from Ballarat (where) it was less than 10 degrees celsius and there (East Timor) it was at least 30 degrees and very humid, it was like jumping into a can of soup, which took a few days to get used to.”

But the differences between his home and host extended beyond the climate.

“The resources at the hospital were very, very low. The local nurses work from basic standards and there is not much incentive for them to better themselves.” From here he saw what Australians would sometimes take for granted.

“When we brought new ideas during the training, they wanted to get involved and take part, and often we take for granted the amount of opportunities we get for training and improving ourselves in Australian hospitals.”

Amid the abject conditions he saw, Flynn seems to have found that every cloud has a silver lining.

“To see that these people were happy in their environment was a big thing for me. They were striving for something better, but were quite content, and they weren’t standing in the streets holding their hands out for money.”

Another participant, Margit Nack, found the NDP as “a very uplifting experience for everybody”. Nack, associate nurse unit manager at SJG Geelong Hospital said, “We had a fantastic team of nurses. We’d never met each other before but we bonded and I can only say positive things about the expatriate nurses and the Timorese nurses in Dili.”

She said that some local nurses were initially reluctant to come to the training because they were not used to it. But they all eventually became good friends.

“Both professionally and personally, I’ve gained a lot from meeting all the people involved in the program, who I value so much and learned so much from. I think the experience and knowledge will follow me throughout my career,’’ she said.

A team of eight expatriate nurses is currently working at the Hospital Nacional Guido Valadares in East Timor, and an additional five nurses from St John of God hospitals in Australia are sent for up to six weeks to deliver basic life support training and hand hygeine training.

Dr Michael Stanford, group CEO of SJGHC, said that St John was “delighted that ConocoPhillips has invested in the NDP that we operate in partnership with the Timorese Ministry of Health.

“This is the first major investment in one of our international health development programs from a corporate entity and a resounding endorsement of our commitment to nursing in East Timor,” he said.

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