Innovation: A day in the life of a humanitarian nursing team – We did it!

For eight weeks, Josie has been in Bangladesh working on an innovative new research project that hopes to use data to learn more about humanitarian nursing - so MSF can save more lives in future. 

We did it!

The final week in Bangladesh flew by and at 8am on Friday morning the data collection officially stopped.

For seven weeks we had asked nurses to record every task they did while they were at work, on a specially designed smartphone app. In the end, they had recorded over 6,000 tasks and I had conducted over 500 observations of nurses at work. Both of these figures exceeded our expectations.

For me, the MSF local staff are the true humanitarians.

Although it was great to have finally wrapped up the data collection, it also meant that I was leaving Bangladesh and heading back to the UK.

This wasn’t so exciting. I’d had such a wonderful eight weeks with the incredible nurses working in the paediatric department at Kutupalong Hospital.

Party time

To say a huge thank you and “see you soon”, rather than goodbye, Helal, the nurse supervisor, and I organised a little party for the team. We held it in the training room of the hospital and ordered in food from Cox’s Bazar, which was a real treat.


Food delivered from Cox's Bazar for the party
Food delivered from Cox's Bazar for the party

The food came in a little blue lunch box which was filled with several plastic bags filled with rice, sauces and even dessert.

Not having a clue what to do with these bags in order to eat, or which one was the dessert, I was happy when the nurses showed me how you use the box – filling the lid with all the bags and finding a little sheet of plastic that you lay over the bottom part of the box, before emptying the food onto the plastic sheet.

I thought the lunchbox was a pretty ingenious idea, and to my surprise, when I was emptying out the bag of rice, an egg and a piece of chicken also appeared. The food was delicious, and everyone really enjoyed it.

A goodbye gift


Josie in her new green sari

After lunch, I was taken off by several of the nurses and they explained they had bought me a saree as a goodbye present and would like to dress me in it.

I was so touched, and the following 20 minutes of them dressing me in this beautiful green saree are 20 minutes I’ll never forget. There were four or five of them all titivating and discussing what to do.

Safety pins were being placed everywhere, then replaced to make sure the saree looked right. They then gave me bracelets, a necklace and earrings, before starting on my hair and makeup.

It was so much fun having them all buzzing around me and even I understood the jokes of how now it would be easy for them to find me a Bangladeshi husband.

Once I was in, we went to show the rest of the team, where we then had a small photo shoot, including lots of selfies.

True humanitarians

I then gave a small speech explaining how grateful I was to have worked with such incredible nurses who were not only dedicated and hardworking, but were also open to taking on additional work to enable MSF to understand a day in the life of a humanitarian nursing team.

For me, the MSF local staff are the true humanitarians.

They aren’t often the face of MSF (and in this case, we’ve avoided using photographs of the nurses participating in the study to maintain their anonymity), but they are the backbone of humanitarian work – whether international NGOs like MSF are there or not.

It’s a source of pride for me to say I work alongside such people.

It was really hard to leave, but it was exciting to think of what we’d managed to achieve in eight weeks.

To say thank you to the nurses for participating in the study, Vicky (a nursing advisor from MSF Netherlands), Cesc (the study lead), and I had got them each a nurse’s fob watch and it was wonderful to be able to present these to the team.

After the presentation, I said my goodbyes and left the hospital for the last time.

It was really hard to leave, but it was exciting to think of what we’d managed to achieve in eight weeks. The whole MSF Bangladesh team had just been incredible in accommodating me, as well as the visits from Vicky and Cesc.

A huge “thank you”

Although the nurses working in the paediatric department were the most involved, the data collection would not have been a success without the support of the wider Bangladesh team.

The logistical teams for supplies, internet access and transport back and forth to the hospital; the HR team who organised flights and accommodation; the finance team for managing the additional costs; and the management team in Kutupalong, Dakar and Amsterdam for helping us pull it all together. Plus of course, the colleagues who have provided invaluable help with these blog posts.

Asking the team on the ground to take on additional tasks or work on research – that in the long term could play a vital role in the development of humanitarian nursing, but in the short term doesn’t offer very much – is not a small ask.

So, from Vicky, Cesc and myself, we would like to once again say a huge “thank you” to them all.

The next adventure

Although the data collection for the study is complete, we now have a huge data set on humanitarian nursing. So, our next adventure is the analysis.

And, although sitting behind a computer during the UK winter will never compete with the last eight weeks, I’m hoping that the results we get from the analysing the data will.