24 hours as a nurse in Ethiopia

Chris Sweeney has recently returned from assignment in Gambella, Ethiopia. He blogs about life in a refugee camp, responding to emergencies, and keeping up with the Scottish football ⚽️ ...

A view of the MSF base in Ngunyyiel refugee camp.

My day begins...

I wake up at around 6:30 to the sound of birdsong and lizards running across my tent. I push past the mosquito net, wash my face at the water pump, and watch jerry cans bob on the other side of the compound fence as women fetch water.

I eat, swallow a multivitamin and my malaria prophylaxis, filling pockets with mobile phones and keys before leaving for the office. I stop at the central pharmacy and remove ice packs from the freezer for the immunization activities.

What I actually do...

I'm responsible for our health posts in the Nguenyyiel and Tierkidi refugee camps, and their 200 staff.  In the last six months of 2018, these six facilities provided 32,000 outpatient consultations.

Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is providing health care for the 800,000 people in this region of Ethiopia, half of whom are refugees having fled violence in South Sudan.

I oversee the staffing needs of the health posts with the help of our HR team and Excel spreadsheets, and also medical and non-medical procurement with the help of the logistics team and endless lists. On a Saturday afternoon, I review medical data and our use of supplies with the help of a cold drink and the Scottish football page on the BBC website.

I carry out weekly training with the nursing staff in each health post. This week we are reviewing wound care, from greeting the patient when they enter the room to appropriate prescribing practices for infections. The supervisors manage day-to-day activities, although I drop in with a clipboard to review procedures and carry out quality assurance checks.

There was an emergency during a visit this week; an unconscious woman carried in by her neighbors. Well-drilled, the team responded by diagnosing and treating her for malaria. She went on to make a full recovery.

The best thing about my job...

I love being part of an organization that provides medical care to, and advocates for, the world’s most vulnerable people. Witnessing the innate kindness and resilience of those who have witnessed war, famine, and disease destroy their communities.

We maintain close proximity to people we are here to serve; in my current project, this means we live within the refugee camp. Experiencing different cultures is always a privilege.

My proudest achievement

When I think of my favorite MSF memories, watching staff grow and develop, knowing they will continue to provide care long after I leave is only second to resuscitating babies and having them named after me.

After work

I enter the shower cubicle and pour a jug of water over my head. I think of the water shortages and queues of women and children I see walking miles each day to find water. Keen to preserve this resource, I take more time with the next jug.

I’ll grab a cold drink from the fridge, share a meal and the day’s stories with my team over candlelight. Before bed, I try to find a spot in the compound with Wi-Fi so I can message friends and family.


A version of this post originally appeared in Community Practitioner magazine