With a love of foreign languages and a desire to help others, overseas nursing was the perfect fit for Port Alberni native Randi Levasseur.
The 23-year-old had attempted to go to Nepal during her third year of a four-year Bachelor of Nursing program at North Island College (NIC) in Courtenay but when that trip fell through, she spent the next year arranging her own practicum. She finally found a program that she was comfortable with and started her practicum at Kandy Hospital, the second largest hospital in Sri Lanka, on Jan, 3.
Levasseur chose the country based on a “gut instinct” and went with Work the World, a company that offered overseas healthcare internships with a nursing focus.
“[They] set up the practicum, the housing… flight, insurance… everything.”
While Levasseur had prepared for her six-week-long trip by learning basic Sinhalese and studying the culture, nursing in a conservative city in Sri Lanka was very different than nursing in Canada had been. During her nursing degree at NIC, she and her classmates were taught importance of communication between doctors, nurses and patients. In a crowded Sri Lankan hospital however, she soon learned that overtaxed nurses simply didn’t have the time.
“You do what you can to survive and keep your patients alive and that’s the mentality over there,” she says, adding, “it’s not to say that the nursing is any better or any worse here or there, it’s just different. They do what they can with what they’ve got and it was amazing.”
The difficulties presented by the lack of time were compounded by the lack of technology that Levasseur had always taken for granted.
“Over there we wouldn’t even have a tourniquet… here you use a tourniquet to get blood or to start and IV [but] over there you use a piece of plastic, anything to cut off the circulation. Over here we use a lot of IV fluids in the hospital; we just didn’t have access to that overseas. You’re able to use a lot of machinery, [over there] everything is manual, if you even have it.”
Sometimes the lack of necessary equipment led to heartbreaking decisions. When four people needed oxygen tanks and Levasseur only had access to three, she had to choose.
“I had to make the decision as to which one of my patients wouldn’t get oxygen, whereas in the hospital here it’s not a question, everyone gets oxygen no matter what.”
Despite the challenges, she loved her time in Sri Lanka.
“I want to go back there… It’s a beautiful country [with] the most friendly people and I feel like only having two days off on the weekends we spent so much traveling that I didn’t really get to see as much as much as I wanted.”
Her time overseas also furthered her desire to continue with nursing. She hopes to go to the northern Himalayas through the Himalayan Health Exchange with some college friends. “You go to these very rural outposts where the only medical care that they get is from these outposts of doctors, dentists, nurses who go there once or twice a year. It’s the only medical care they get because it’s just so hard to get to them.”
For now though, Levasseur is working at Home and Community Care here in Port Alberni to gain more experience.
“We see clients in their homes and in the clinic and the idea is to keep them healthy and keep them out of the hospital and treat them. They’re generally wound or palliative clients.”
She has a six-month full time new graduate position at the centre and after that hopes to continue on a casual basis.
“When I’m a casual I’ll work in the community and hopefully also get an acute position so that I’m able to do both and get both sides of the experience. I love nursing so [anything to get] experience.”