Samantha Hamill would happily “volunteer her life away” if she could.
The Queensland nurse, who normally works at Kawana Private Hospital on the Sunshine Coast, recently spent three weeks working with Mercy Ships off the coast of Africa, followed by a further three weeks in a maternity hospital in regional Tanzania.
She said both experiences were life-changing.
“I first heard about Mercy Ships about a year and a half ago and my first thought was, ‘Where do I sign up’?” Samantha said.
“It really fulfilled all my expectations, dealing with communities who are less fortunate than us and working with doctors and nurses from around the world – it was amazing.”
Mercy Ships is an international development organisation deploying hospital ships and volunteers to developing nations – improving the quality of life for people living in poverty; with disfigurement and disability through direct medical services, and building the capacities of local healthcare systems.
“There are pathologies over there that we just don’t see here, and it was a valuable learning experience and very fulfilling,” Samantha said.
“I did three weeks with Mercy Ships, and then I went to Tanzania for three and a half weeks, for a midwifery placement in a community called Arusha.
“The closest I had ever been (to childbirth) was at the caesareans that we do at the hospital, so it was pretty eye-opening – the lack of resources, the lack of sterility.
“Women giving birth with no pain medication – for me, it was amazing how strong those women are. Culturally, they are not allowed to show they’re in pain during childbirth or have a support person in there with them.
“By day two, I was helping women give birth on my own; and it took me a week or so to really get past the emotional stuff, just knowing what kind of infections these women were being exposed to.”
Samantha said she would recommend volunteering to everyone, not just medical staff.
“I think a lot of people here would really benefit from seeing the world for what it is.
“If I could, I would volunteer my life away. There are so many life experiences from over there you can put into your life here,” she said.
“On the nursing side of things, on Mercy Ships I was able to see awake intubation for the first time and things like facial tumours that we just don’t see here.”
She said one of the most rewarding aspects was being able to work with doctors and nurses from around the globe.
“Every country does things differently so being able to see that and gain those skills was amazing.
“I was given more responsibility there too; the doctors allow you to do the work and they’re there to support you,” Samantha said.
“It makes you a much better practitioner and you’re more confident in yourself.
“Back at home, I’ve noticed a lot of little things – we throw out so much plastic waste here in hospitals, whereas over there they get by with so little.
“Just having basic things like clean water and a sterile environment.
“Seeing all the people there on Mercy Ships working for the common good of humanity felt amazing. No-one paid them to go there, and to see the outcomes for patients was very rewarding.
“It feels like such a big world sometimes, and you hope you’re making a difference.”
Samantha said her manager at Kawana, anaesthetic team leader Ivan Whitehead, had inspired her to work with Mercy Ships.
“I’m super grateful for Ivan, having him travel with me, he really made the transition over there so smooth,” she said.
“I’m just really lucky to have him as a friend and a mentor.
“I would love to go back and work with Mercy Ships again, 100 percent.”