Heather Hermann - Medicine & Healthcare, Nursing in Mongolia
I have not been able to do a ton of international travelling in my life so far and, with it being my last summer before entering the workforce, I wanted to make sure I was able to accomplish some jet-setting. I also knew that I wanted to combine this with my interest in international medicine and nursing.
As a student nursing, I have been trained in culturally-sensitive care. I knew that to really understand this, I would need to travel abroad and immerse myself in a different culture. After researching and realising that I didn’t want to travel to a place that most people go, Mongolia seemed like the perfect choice - and it was.
Arriving in Mongolia
After almost 36 hours of travel, landing in Mongolia was quite a relief. Everyone with whom I spoke, even if the language barrier was somewhat difficult, was extremely welcoming and helpful. Truthfully, I didn’t know what to expect on the journey from the airport to my placement, and I think that was a good thing. It was an interesting journey on dirt roads with no lanes and giant potholes, but it made it all the more real. It was election day so, due to everything being closed, I was able to go straight to my house and meet my host family. They immediately welcomed me with “sain baina uu” (food) and then showed me to my room so I could catch up on sleep. It was just what I needed.
My Nursing project
I was placed at the State Maternal Hospital #3. The language barrier was definitely the most difficult aspect of being there. Very few nurses and doctors spoke any English and I knew very little Mongolian. Thankfully, there was one nurse in recovery and one neonatologist who had a workable knowledge of English. They were phenomenally helpful and so gracious with my lack of Mongolian.
I had two full weeks at my placement. The first week I was in surgery. On average, I would estimate that there were 7 Caesarean sections a day. Since I had only ever seen 2 prior to this trip, it was very interesting to see so many more. I feel as if I became an expert. I was also able to scrub in on 3 different C-sections. It was such an invaluable experience for me. I felt such an amazing sense of purpose as I was assisting in bringing a new life into the world. Additionally, I was able to observe a hysterectomy, a bilateral tubal ligation, and the delivery of twins.
For my second week I was in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). I had never spent any time in the NICU in the States, so I was a bit apprehensive about the experience. Because the babies were so small, and in somewhat precarious medical situations, I wasn’t able to perform that many nursing skills, but I was able to observe a lot. The nurses were so skilled at starting IV’s on such little veins. It was outstanding. Something very interesting that I observed was that all babies are taken to a nurse who specializes in vaccines prior to discharge. She gives them vaccinations against polio, hepatitis B, and a tuberculosis skin test. Polio and hepatitis B vaccines are given in the States, but they are usually done in each patient’s room. Additionally, tuberculin skin tests are not performed in the States. It was very interesting to see the ways in which the care differed. Thankfully, I was allowed to administer vaccines to the babies. This definitely assisted me in my skills and helped to increase my confidence.
Travelling in Mongolia at the weekends
I worked from 8 am - 4:30 pm Monday through Friday, so I did have evenings and weekends off. Evenings I would either spend with my host family or out with other volunteers. One weekend I was able to spend time with my host sister and her daughter and get a tour of Ulaanbaatar in a very authentic way. She took me to some of her favourite places and we went to a small amusement park so that her daughter could have some well-deserved fun.
The second weekend I was able to go hiking with a group of volunteers. We went to Zaisan Memorial just south of downtown. It commemorates the friendship between the USSR and Mongolia during and following World War II. It was an amazing adventure with some wonderful friends, a beautiful monument depicting a very important piece of Mongolian history, and a great way to spend my last weekend in Mongolia.
Without meaning to, or any advanced planning, I was lucky enough to still be in Ulaanbaatar during the Naadam. This is a three day festival celebrating horseback riding, archery, and wrestling. Interestingly enough, women are now allowed to compete in archery. The Projects Abroad staff were able to secure tickets to the opening ceremonies and it was absolutely beautiful. It changes every year, so even the staff did not know what to expect. I was also able to see the beginnings of the wrestling tournament and the finals of the archery.
In addition to this, Projects Abroad also obtained tickets to a special cultural concert. This featured traditional Mongolian arts such as throat singing, folk dances, and contortionists. It was some of the most beautiful and interesting displays of art that I have ever seen and I feel so blessed that I was able to attend.
My overall experience
Overall, while I was very excited to head back to a sense of normality in the US, I loved my time in Mongolia. I was able to perform nursing skills that will help me once I am licensed. I feel my sense of cultural-sensitive care will be enhanced and I believe that I will be a better nurse in general. I met amazing friends, and I experienced things that I know will never happen again. What I wanted was a life-changing trip and I received just that.