Monica Burns is a paediatric nurse and has worked in South Sudan, Malawi, Pakistan and Yemen.
How would you describe your work with Médecins Sans Frontières so far?
My paediatric skills have been invaluable. Médecins Sans Frontières works in over 50 different countries around the world and in many of these countries the under 5 mortality is unacceptably high, so all of the projects I have worked on have attempted to address this. In Malawi we were responding to a measles epidemic and I helped run a vaccination campaign for children aged 6 months to 15 years. In Pakistan, I ran a cholera hospital for adults and children affected by the floods. In Yemen, I helped children who had been affected by conflict. I came to South Sudan for the first time last year to work in a refugee camp where the majority of our patients were paediatric. Now I am Head Nurse in Médecins Sans Frontières' maternal and child services in the state referral hospital. Everyday, I use my paediatric experience in different ways, whether it's planning, educating and implementing protocols, or direct patient care. For example, we run a neonatal unit that requires specialised nursing care, even though it's a really resource-poor setting.
What do you find is different about work in the field?
On the surface there are not a lot of similarities that can be drawn between working in a refugee camp in a muddy tent with gumboots on, and working in a tertiary paediatric hospital. But the assessment skills and paediatric knowledge gained from years of work in Australia help me to give the best treatment possible.
" Everyday, I use my paediatric experience in different ways, whether it's planning, educating and implementing protocols, or direct patient care."
What led you to Médecins Sans Frontières?
At University I studied a lot about equality and inequity. This led me to work with marginalised groups, including children, asylum seekers, and people with a disability. After working with some other international NGOs I found Médecins Sans Frontières' ideals aligned most closely with mine.
What are the challenges and the rewards in working in humanitarian contexts?
There are a lot of challenges; the personal ones, including the living conditions (at times I have shared a tent), then also those that come with working with some of the most marginalised populations in the world. Sometimes it's really tough, to see people that are suffering greatly. What's most rewarding for sure is the feeling that you are making a difference. In many of the projects in which I've worked Médecins Sans Frontières has been the only health care provider able to react to the population in distress. I have also met some amazing people and made lifelong friends. To anyone interested I'd say stay flexible, be prepared to lead, and look forward to working with and within a diverse group of people. My current team has over 15 different nationalities!