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Q&A with Neonatal Nurse Rachel

We’re delighted to welcome Neonatal Nurse Rachel Duffy from Co. Roscommon to the VSO Ireland family! Rachel is the very first volunteer on our Irish Aid funded health programme in Karamoja, Uganda, which aims to improve healthcare services for adolescent mothers and their babies. Rachel’s role will involve mentoring local nurses and midwives to ensure they know how to carry out life-saving techniques and use equipment in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Before setting off for Uganda, we caught up with Rachel to find out how she was feeling about her placement and what made her take the plunge in the first place. Here’s what she said…

What motivated you to volunteer with VSO Ireland?

I was just home from travelling and in a bit of a limbo. I wasn’t sure what to do next but had wanted to volunteer overseas since I was about 17. Doing a bit of research one day, I came across a VSO ad for a neonatal nurse, the exact role I was interested in. VSO also appealed to me as you don’t have to fundraise a specific amount of money for your placement – the focus is very much on skills exchange and the work you do overseas. I’ve no ties at the moment so thought why not go overseas and help in whatever way I can!

Nurses at Moroto Referral Hospital, Karamoja.

What was the recruitment process like for you?

It all went really smoothly and was very well organised. In total, it took about two weeks to complete, starting with a phone chat and finishing up with a technical interview with the Programme Manager. I wasn’t working at the time which meant I was very flexible about calls and interviews. After each stage, I was sent a very informative email about what the next step would be and could ask Hester in the VSO Ireland office any questions I had. The online SJT (Situational Judgement Test) was tricky but it really made me think about what being a VSO volunteer would be like. The fact the selection process is so in-depth put me at ease in a weird way. Whenever I was having doubts about my own abilities, I’ve thought about the fact that they wouldn’t be putting me through the process if they didn’t think I could do it. That gives me a lot more confidence.

How have you been preparing for your placement?

I’ve been doing a lot of VSO training online and joined the Skills for Working in Development course by Skype. I also chatted with Patrick and Lisa, two volunteers currently in Karamoja on the education programme, as well as Steph, a former VSO volunteer who had a similar role to me in a hospital in Ethiopia. It was great talking to them both to get an idea of what it’ll be like to be a VSO volunteer and what to expect. I’m hoping I settle in properly during my induction period in Kampala and Karamoja.

What do you think you’ll miss about home?

I’ve just back from travelling for around nine months so I’m used to being away from home. If I hadn’t gone travelling, I’d probably be more stressed than I am now. There’s only a two hour time difference between Karamoja and home so I know I’ll be able to stay in touch with friends and family. It was much more difficult when I was in South East Asia and Australia. My family have been totally on board and really supportive, so that’s made things much easier too.

Maternity ward at St Kizito Hospital, Napak.

What are you most looking forward to?

I’m not really sure where I’ll be placed exactly but I’m really looking forward to the whole experience. I feel like I’ve been talking about it for so long and things have finally lined up. I’ve always wanted to go to Africa so I’m really excited about that. I can’t wait to experience a totally new culture and also see the differences in nursing between Ireland and Uganda. The mortality rates are so much higher in Uganda than Ireland, so nothing will really prepare me for that. From speaking with Steph, I know it’ll take me a few months to settle in, build relationships and actually start doing stuff. Even with previous jobs in Ireland, you can’t just waltz in. I’m looking forward to two or three months down the line when I’ve settled in and can start making an impact. There won’t be the same monitors or labs that I’m used to here, but I know I’ll learn new skills that will greatly benefit me down the line here too. If I even help just five babies, I'll be happy.

We’re looking for more health professionals like Rachel to volunteer in Karamoja over the next three years. If you’re interested in finding out more, please check out our vacancies page here.

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