Johnny Burridge won the CSP’s Work the World competition in 2016. Johnny, who studies at the University of Hertfordshire, decided to travel to Nepal for his four-week placement. Here he shares an account of his experiences and some useful tips for when you head out on placement.
A win in midwinter
So here’s how it started: in the midst of a busy freshers’ week I found myself sitting in the CSP’s introductory lecture. Now, I’m not saying the rest of the lecture wasn’t interesting (honest!), but the undoubted highlight of it was finding out about the Work the World competition.
It was exciting to imagine having the chance to travel abroad and gain an amazing experience of physiotherapy in a completely different culture. And all I had to do to enter, having joined the CSP as a student member, was email the CSP’s student officer with my name and phone number! Naturally, I did just that, thinking I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Flash forward a few months, and I had completely forgotten about the competition. It was a cold January day and I was lying in bed with the flu when out of the blue the students’ officer called with the best pick-me-up ever! I of course accepted my prize immediately.
Picking a destination
I asked to defer my placement to the following summer, as I thought that by that time I would have more experience of physiotherapy to take with me. Nepal seemed an ideal destination to me, as I wanted to experience physiotherapy in a country as culturally different to the UK as possible. Also, at that time Nepal didn’t seem to be a country I was ever likely to visit as a holiday destination. (That’s all changed now, of course - I’d jump at the chance to go back!)
The Work the World team were fantastic with organising the experience for me, managing to work all their plans around my other commitments. They gave me an online pack which included everything from travel and money advice to language lessons.
Doing a placement with Work the World also meant that I was able to make some amazing friends from amongst the other healthcare students who made up our team. Here we are enjoying a well-earned rest having trekked the 3210m up Poon Hill.
A passage to Pokhara
It took 3 flights from the UK before I finally reached my destination: Pokhara, one of the biggest cities in Nepal.
Pokhara was the perfect place to spend my four weeks; both the city centre and lakeside are full of things to do and places to eat, and just outside the city there are countless landmarks and natural waterfalls to marvel at. In such beautiful and eventful surroundings, I was easily able to find a balance between my placement and my free time.
Learning on the job
I was on placement in the city’s general hospital where I spent time on orthopedics, neuro-ITU and musculoskeletal outpatients. I also managed to see an open-spinal surgery completed by the hospital’s head of neurology.
The placement helped to increase my confidence as a student physio, and I spent some time updating the physios in Nepal about the new developments in British practice. I was also questioned along with the medical interns which really helped me to learn a lot clinically about the medical management of the patients.
The culture in Nepal is very focused on the family being the caregivers, so a lot of time was spent educating family members about their relatives’ treatment. My fondest memory of the whole placement was teaching two young brothers how to teach their father exercises that would allow him to regain independent standing.
The importance of a smile
My placement helped me to improve my non-verbal communication skills. I would often have to complete assessments and treatments with minimal language ability. That said, I found that being able to speak just a few words of the local language helped to break down any cultural barriers and build a strong rapport with the patient.
One form of non-verbal communication came particularly in handy, which brings me to my favourite take-home point: the importance of a smile! In Nepal, its importance could not be understated: it connects you to a person. But even at home a connective smile is something that I have integrated into my practice whilst on my university placements and will continue to do so.
I can’t thank the CSP enough for making my experiences in Nepal possible. I can only offer limited advice to those thinking of venturing out on a placement abroad: DO IT.