From VU to Vanuatu

Danielle Merlino, Georges Jack (ProMedical) and Lucinda McCarthy in Port Vila

Twelve students, 20 newborn babies, one active volcano — and an earthquake. This was a study tour Victoria University Paramedicine students are unlikely to forget.

For 10 days the third year students, under the guidance of VU lecturer and paramedic Rebecca Houli and Jacqueline LeBusque, divided their time working with Vanuatu’s emergency services departments to gain critical, hands-on experience.

While one group shadowed ProMedical Vanuatu, a 24-hour ambulance service based in the capital Port Vila, another group worked with doctors and nurses at both the public and private hospitals. All of Port Vila’s medical and emergency services are developing, so VU’s $1600 donation raised by the visiting students was a much-needed financial boost.

“All the professionals we worked with were tireless, committed and were a real inspiration to our students,” said Rebecca.

“The community doesn’t have the same access to health care that we do in Australia and yet they manage to achieve so much. That really struck me”, said student Andrew Tovey. “The whole trip was a really invaluable experience.”

Students Sarah Rule and Lucinda Bull assisted with five births, three of them within their first three-hour shift. “You watch YouTube videos, see simulations and read lectures, but to see an actual birth – it’s full on. At first it was a little overwhelming, but I really think those experiences have helped me grow personally and professionally,” said Lucinda.

Student Jessie Collins said the midwifery experience was a definite highlight. “Some women didn’t have any family with them, so being their support person was really rewarding.” Jessie also has a new appreciation for solid ground after experiencing the 6.2 earthquake. Some of the group were in the hotel when the quake struck. “We left the building and waited outside. The concrete was literally swaying. It was a very strange experience”, said Rebecca Houli.

Chloe Biggs and Hayden Douglad went on an aeromedical retrieval to Pentecost Island to treat a patient, but the trip took an unexpected turn when they flew over Ambryn, a very active volcanic island with lava lakes located in the craters. “We got an amazing view from the plane, you could see the smoke rising out of the craters.”

The entire study tour was made possible thanks to The New Colombo Plan Scholarship Program which provides opportunities for undergraduate students to complete semester-based study in 40 Indo-Pacific locations. This provided the Paramedicine VU students with first-hand experience of opportunities and challenges faced by paramedics and health care workers, in a culture different from their own.

Regardless of the day’s events, when the sun went down the group met for a debrief, a chance to share and reflect on their experiences. “There’s no doubt this group has bonded”, says Rebecca. “Before they left, they barely knew each other, now they trust and respect each other. Experiencing the place and the people in the community has been a really humbling experience.”

The endeavour has also strengthened the three-year relationship with Vanuatu health care providers and increased travel to to the Indo pacific region. After graduation, students now have goals and aspirations to one day return with the Australian Volunteers for International Development program (AVID).

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