Edith Torricke-Barton is a nurse who is extremely passionate about global health. She shares her wonderful story working in Mozambique and the lessons she learnt along the way.
GHG: Tell us about yourself.
I was born in England, but grew up in Canberra. My family is made up of generations of travellers and immigrants. My heritage is from UK, Ireland, Myanmar, Europe and India. I spent most of my life in Canberra and was ready to bust out as soon as I left school. I’ve always wanted to travel and see the world.
GHG: Why did you choose your career?
Along with my passion for travelling, I have a passion for anything health related. As a child, I wanted to be a doctor or a nurse. Somewhere in my teenage years, I developed this insatiable need to go work in Africa, in some clinical capacity.
I studied nursing at University of Canberra while I still wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. I initially thought nursing would be a good step for moving into something else health related. But I fell in love with it. I spent 4 years in emergency nursing but I felt that I had lost sight of my goal to work in Africa. I didn’t feel like I had enough skills or the right experiences to start working overseas, so I decided to go Alice Springs, where I spent three years working in rural and remote Australia.
GHG: Can you tell us about a seminal experience in your career?
The big moment in my life and career was the realisation that I was getting caught up in a career path that I didn’t want to take. Moving away from Canberra and exploring Australia whilst working opened me up to many new experiences. Remote nursing influenced me to pursue my ultimate dream of working in international health. At the same time I enrolled in a Masters of Public Health at James Cook University. Following this, I took the plunge, packed up my life, quit work and self-funded a year away to volunteer.
Last year I went to Kenya, Mozambique, UK, Japan and India either volunteering or travelling and always curious as to how different health systems work.
GHG: Tell us about your work as an RN in Mozambique. How did you come to working there?
The children’s centre in Maputo was looking for western nurses and a family friend said that I’d love it there. In hindsight, I have never worked as hard as I did at that children’s centre in Mozambique.
GHG: What did your role involve?
The job of the international nurses was to manage, guide and perform all health and medical aspects at the centre. I worked with the local nurses, 3 overseas nurses and sometimes a health worker. The ‘pool’ of staff was always changing and I would take on responsibilities as needed. There were no doctors on our team so I, along with the other senior nurse, found ourselves with higher responsibilities compared to back home.
We were constantly assessing and re-assessing sick children, over-seeing care, managing our case children, doing general nursing and observing the HIV +, special needs and chronically ill children for signs of deterioration. Given the multiple outbreaks, we were implementing and maintaining quarantine and infection control standards. We also did a large amount of medical management, teaching, supervising and supporting others in the health care team. I would escort children to clinics or hospitals and liaise with the health professionals there. I was endlessly reading World Health Organisation (WHO), British Nursing Formulary (BNF) and other reputable health network protocols, messaging or emailing medical friends back home, researching things I had seen that day including relevant treatments. I re-learnt how to look at chest x-rays and interpret pathology results. But mostly we were making treatment decisions based solely on clinical findings.
GHG: How did you respond to these challenges and what kind of support would have made your work easier?
On reflection, I have found like a lot of health jobs there is always more to be done than what one person can do. It takes team work. The way I coped with this increased work load was using my support systems. I had amazing support and understanding from the center directors and long term staff. They’d been doing this for years. I also had the support of my allied health, doctor, and nurse friends back home. They gave a lot of advice and encouragement. I also found it helped me to have a weekend break every month to help me let go and keep on going.
GHG: What were your main professional and personal achievements?
Professional – Taking on more responsibility and management then I had ever done. When the head of medical and centre directors were away, I was solely in charge of medical.
Personal- I was becoming better at Portuguese as long as I was communicating about medical issues. If I was trying to communicate in other situations I was lost.
GHG: What inspired you whilst you were working?
– The love and gratitude of the people I looked after for just being there, let alone the work I did.
– The people I worked with. They have dedicated their lives to the centre and the people of the community.
– The small precious moments where I got to stop and play with the kids or hang out with my friends or kiss 10 babies goodnight and put them in their cots.
– Just living there and seeing the challenges of life there inspires me.
GHG: What did you find most challenging?
My lack of the local language was very challenging. Back home, I’m used to being able to converse with my patients in detail to properly assess them. Saying this, I got used to working with interpreters.
I also found the lack of resources frustrating. It was difficult to get medicines and ample equipment like wound dressings or splints. However, working in poorly resourced settings, you do learn to trouble shoot. For example; we were unable to get Plumpy Nut for our malnourished kids, so we ended up making our own nutritional substitute.
GHG: How do you keep motivated to work in the field of global health?
There is definitely a need for better health care globally. I’m aware of the problems with international aid and humanitarian work, so I’m a big advocate of delivering quality, culturally sensitive and evidence based solutions. I don’t believe one size or system fits all and I think that we have to be very careful as to how we enter into other cultures with our ideas of improving things.
Overall, it’s the people that keep me motivated. I tend to fall in love with the people I work with and even though it can be hard and frustrating at times, deep down I love it.
GHG: From a work perspective how is the reality different from the dream you had of working in global health?
It’s harder and more complicated then I realised. I found everything takes much longer to do. For example, I did not imagine it would take me 10 years to get to this point.
In my experience, everything doesn’t run to the same time as back home and I found simple procedures took more effort organising.
I learnt that health is multifactorial and everything is linked. To have better health you need a good government, better education, an economy that can afford medicines etc.
GHG: What are your tips for people interested in working in global health?
Be qualified and experienced. I know that’s frustrating as you just want to get out there and start working. But it’s important to be the best possible resource for the place, project or people. It’s taken me years to reach this point but I wouldn’t change that. Research as much as you can about where you want to go. Know the country, the issues, the culture and customs.
For health professionals, know your clinical stuff too! You often walk into situations where the level of care, clinical knowledge, and resources are very different from home. You are in a position to become an excellent source of information and skills.
Get as much life experience as you can. Spend time travelling in developing countries or spend some time working in your own remote or rural backyard. Australia has so many great remote opportunities.
I would also recommend being able to self-reflect. You need to know your stressors and how you can deal with them. Working in the field is one huge pressure cooker of emotion and stress. It is overwhelming.
In short, know what you’re getting into, know your stuff and know yourself.
Saying that, never give up and don’t let anyone or anything stop you from getting there and being great at it.