Katrina Penney is Midwife and worked in Afghanistan, Nepal, Yemen and Haiti
Confident and competent midwives practising in New Zealand are a perfect model for what is required by the international medical humanitarian organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières, according to midwife Katrina Penney. And she's in a position to know. A highly experienced nurse and midwife, Katrina has been away on four placements with the humanitarian organisation. "New Zealand midwives make good Médecins Sans Frontières midwives," she said. "New Zealand midwifery experience gives you the solid foundations to deal with the likely challenges you face in the field. Midwifery practice in Médecins Sans Frontières field placements requires skills across the scope of midwifery and beyond. NZ midwives have all these skills."
"They are used to a midwifery model that reflects a capacity to work safely and autonomously. The legislative changes that allow NZ midwives to prescribe treatment and work autonomously in consultation with women have produced health professionals who are highly suited to Médecins Sans Frontières programs. This does not mean that midwives practise in isolation and without support but that they get the opportunity to consolidate their experience and fully demonstrate their expertise."
"I hold Médecins Sans Frontières in very high regard for what it does. It is a pinnacle humanitarian organisation with a lot of integrity - transparent and honest. Access to medical care is a privilege that many of us take for granted. Médecins Sans Frontières works at ensuring that essential medical care reaches those who are not able to otherwise receive it."
Midwives are highly regarded and desperately needed in the humanitarian world. Médecins Sans Frontières goes to places where populations are in critical need of medical assistance and where women and children are the most vulnerable. Midwives can make a positive difference in this situaion. The opportunity to live and work with these populations is a unique privilege and the professional and personal rewards are immense, according to Katrina. "It certainly pushes your limits but it's also a wonderful opportunity to develop and explore you skills. The good thing is that any competent NZ midwife is well-equipped to do it," she said.
Katrina discovered this on her first placement to Afghanistan. "I was very proud of the work I was able to do there as a midwife and what I could do for the Afghani people in those nine months," she said. "I gave it my all but I got so much back. It was a career changing experience and I learned an enormous amount from the people there and developed enormous respect for them. Afghanistan touched my heart in a way no other country has done before or since. The people are sincere and humble and though they've been traumatised by war and misery, they still try their very best for themselves and their families and find time to laugh and celebrate life every day." That experience put many things into focus for Katrina, including a sense of the privilege of living and working within another culture and the knowledge that humanitarian work was something she wanted to do. After returning home from Afghanistan, she interspersed midwifery work in her home country with Médecins Sans Frontières placements to Nepal, Yemen and Haiti as well as a three-year stint working in the Médecins Sans Frontières Sydney office in Field Human Resources.
Certainly an interesting career trajectory for a health professional who began work as a nurse in 1982, worked in remote Aboriginal communities in outback Australia for almost a decade and then qualified as a midwife at the Auckland University of Technology in 1996. After completing her midwifery studies, Katrina discovered that midwifery in New Zealand is a great profession. "I realised that the best midwifery opportunities were right on my doorstep" she said. For the next few years Katrina worked as a self employed midwife but in 2002 she was ready for her next challenge and joined Médecins Sans Frontières. Over the next decade Katrina consolidated her experience as a nurse, midwife and humanitarian worker and completed a Masters in Public Health and Tropical Medicine at James Cook University in Townsville. She then returned home to spend time with her family and friends and to reconnect with her midwifery career. Last year she worked as a core midwife at Whangarei Hospital where she again felt very proud to be a New Zealand practicing midwife.
Currently she is programme supervisor for the Refugee Health Screening Clinic at Auckland's Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre where she manages to remain connected to all her career aspirations. Katrina says "that in one way or another" Médecins Sans Frontières will always be part of her life. "In a way you're always returning from one placement and looking forward to the next," she said. "I've been around a long time and I'm not blinkered to Médecins Sans Frontières' faults but I still believe it's one of the best organisations that offers aid today."
"I hold Médecins Sans Frontières in very high regard for what it does. It is a pinnacle humanitarian organisation with a lot of integrity - transparent and honest. Access to medical care is a privilege that many of us take for granted. Médecins Sans Frontières works at ensuring that essential medical care reaches those who are not able to otherwise receive it." And the organisation is a perfect fit for expanding the abilities of NZ midwives who Katrina says are already several steps ahead of other countries. "The experience of working with Médecins Sans Frontières manages to expand even more the comfidence and competence that NZ midwives are held in high regard for," she said.