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5 minutes with... Jennifer Sims, Specialised Nurse, Myanmar

Jennifer Sims is a specialised nurse volunteering in the Pediatric Department of the Pyin Oo Lwin general hospital, in the Mandalay Division.

Volunteer nurse Jennnifer Sims with students in Myanmar

Volunteer nurse Jennifer Sims with students

© VSO/Jennifer Sims

What is your role?

Neonatal mortality rate in Myanmar is extremely high. Aspiring to give a valuable contribution towards reaching Sustainable Development Goal 3 – which aims to ensure healthy lives and to promote well-being for all at all ages also by ending preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age – VSO and its partner have given me the opportunity to work in a hospital setting to help improving neonatal nursing care. Neonatal deaths are the highest rates of deaths in under 5-year-old children.

I am currently working in the neonatal ward of the Pediatric Department of a Government Hospital. Pyin Oo Lwin general hospital is a 300-bed-hospital with 12 wards.

My role is to teach, mentor and coach alongside nurses in the neonatal unit. My daily routine consists of attending the ward, observing care, recognizing improvements and thinking of action plans to face challenges.

I work closely with the nurses and doctors and feel privileged to be part of such a hard-working and enthusiastic team of health professionals.

What do you like about your placement and what major challenges are you facing?

As Myanmar has been closed to the rest of the world for a long time, the project is very innovative and at the very beginning I did not know what to expect. Therefore, I have had to be flexible and adjust to what is required of me since my arrival. VSO prepared me for this and I have loved the challenge.

When I first arrived in Myanmar I was placed in one of the country’s major children hospitals in Mandalay for six weeks to observe best practices of neonatal care. There, I learnt a lot about working in resource-poor settings, the reality of a high mortality rate and the culture of care. I met some inspiring health professionals who are highly driven to save lives in difficult working conditions with very little reward. I have also been reporting back every month to the senior personnel for support, ideas and feedback.

When I began my placement at Pyin Oo Lwin general hospital I was very conscious not to rush into the role with my western ideas, so I spent some time observing the ward closely and built up relationships with the staff. This enabled me to really understand how and why the health system was working or not. This took a long time, and is a necessary part of my role here. Patience is key when the time comes to address issues on the ward. Being well prepared and having a good understanding of the challenges that I might face when trying to introduce new ideas has been paramount.

Every month I have given a lecture on one specific subject of my choice to over 100 nursing staff and seniors. My presence in the ward has enabled me to put the teaching into practice. The main topics I discussed have been infection control, jaundice, premature care, and respiratory care. The final key topic I plan to focus on will be nursing empowerment. I believe the key to improving patient care is to bring satisfaction to the nursing role and empower them to fulfill their responsibility. Therefore, I will be holding an international nurses' day event with prizes for nurse champions, to show nurses they are appreciated and they making a difference.

Can you tell us something more about your experience living in Myanmar, in a non-urban context?

When I first arrived in Myanmar I did know what to expect. The most prominent feature of this country is the kindness and generosity of its people. I have learnt valuable lessons in terms of respect, mutual helping, generosity and caring without expecting anything in return. 

It is not always easy. Being alone, the only foreigner, and having frustrating language and cultural barriers can get you down. It can take a long time to settle in. But thanks to the support of VSO and its partner, I have always had someone to talk to and to encourage me. 

Before I came to Myanmar I never thought I could have achieved what I have with this project. My advice to anyone considering doing a project like this is, do not think twice. It will not leave you empty hearted.

Find out more about volunteering in Myanmar

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