What was your background?
I trained as a paediatric nurse at Sydney Children’s Hospital. I have always had an interest in child and maternal health. I worked in Sydney for a while, before moving to London. But I am not a big city person and when I returned to Sydney, I realised it was time to have a change. I wanted to make a difference. I had a friend working on the peninsula in the Northern Territory, who suggested working for Aboriginal Health, and so I did.
I ended up working with a remote community in Warburton in Western Australia. I was in a team of three nurses, with doctors operating remotely in Kalgoorlie, but I loved it. I remember waking up one day thinking, “Yes, I have a career now”, and I could see it moving through.
How did you come to work for MSF?
After working with Aboriginal communities, I won a Churchill Fellowship to study tropical medicine in Liverpool, England. Here, the MFS team was recruiting and after an interview, I went on their books. I came back to Australia for five years before I went on my first mission. I have since worked in Liberia, Kenya, Syria and now Pakistan.
What are you currently working on in Pakistan?
We are running a women’s hospital in Peshawar, which has been there for five years now. We do about 500 deliveries of babies a month, and have people coming from isolated areas, or who have a complicated medical history. We also have an 18-bed neo-natal high-dependency unit, where we treat babies who experience difficulties during birth.
We also have a project in Kurram Agency, in an area called Fata, which is a tribally administered area. We call it a remote-management project because we have not been able to get ex-pat staff in there permanently due to security concerns. Here, we run a paediatrics department as well as the ambulance service for adult patients.
What are your responsibilities as a head of mission?
I’m liaise between the Pakistani government and the MSF team on the ground. It represent MSF in that country, and make sure everything is running smoothly. I’m currently negotiating with the government agencies to move into the Punjab province. It is one of the most highly populated province in Pakistan but its health services are concentrated in certain areas. It’s difficult for members of marginalised populations to get access to the health they need.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
Security is an enormous consideration because of where we work but it’s also something we have to draw a line in. If we cannot feel safe where we work, we cannot operate. We have always considered the community and society around us to be our biggest security. If you get to know the community and the people around you, they are the ones that protect you. Personally, I also struggle being confined to an office most of the time. I love being out with the team in the field, or helping the mothers and babies we treat. You never stop being a nurse, and that’s what I love. Sometimes I often have a strong word to myself and say, “Let your team make the decision because if that was you, and someone else was trying to tell you what to do, you would be really annoyed.”
To learn more about the work of MSF and how you might help, see their website here