The trip, which was in part possible thanks to the Australian Government's New Colombo Plan Mobility Program, was led by Senior Learning Facilitator, naturopath, and midwife, Anne Digby, and Program Director, Health Science, Ashley Hillsley.
“The trip was an incredible undertaking, and a very successful proof of concept,” said Ashley Hillsley, Program Director, Health Sciences.
During the two-week trip, students observed and experienced various traditional and Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) therapies, including naturopathy, homeopathy and acupuncture, as well as a world-renowned rehab facility, and the only midwife-led birthing centre in Nepal.
“We crafted an immersive learning experience that satisfies the same criteria in a different classroom, that classroom being the world,” said Ashley.
“The trip was beyond my expectations, and the transformation in the students was extraordinary,” said Anne, who has a degree in Midwifery and a Master of Public Health.
Health Science Students confronted with various challenges
A long-time traveler to the region, Anne was keen to share her vast network of health professionals, and immersive authentic experiences, ensuring every health discipline would benefit from each visit.
“We hit the ground running, so you can imagine the overwhelm they experienced when they first arrived in Kathmandu,” said Anne. “It was the first time out of the country for some of our students.”
“We evaluated subjects identifying a space to cultivate robust outcomes and influence future employment and employability,” explained Ashley.
The intent was to include opportunities that evolved students’ cultural understanding, and context of the world, with the added opportunity of becoming global citizens.
The reality was far more pronounced than that, explains Ashley. The experience provided a personal growth incubator for the students.
“We saw enormous culture shock for some students and intense emotional experiences at the beginning, progressing into a capacity to navigate big experiences and self-evaluate their own existence within the world,” said Ashley.
Midway through the itinerary the group visited HRDC Disabled Children's Hospital. Ashley said the students were mentally prepared but found the experience to be emotionally challenging.
“Perhaps being inhibited by the challenge of language barrier and communication as well as cultural expectations, left many students with a range of questions, and stimulated them to reflect on their own sense of self.”
From an educator perspective, Ashley and Anne saw what the students were going through and helped them process their experiences through nightly debriefing, a practice that became a core focus of the program.
“After my debrief, I felt heard, understood, supported, and grateful to be surrounded by such a beautiful group. I remembered I wasn’t alone in this journey,” said Amber Kenny Bachelor of Health Science in (Clinical Nutrition).
Lessons learnt during Health facilities tour
The initial sense of overwhelm was swiftly replaced by confidence, independence, resilience, and self-awareness. By changing their lens to a newfound global perspective, and comfort with the uncomfortable, the students returned to Australia with a new outlook, and a tight-knit community of peers, each acutely aware of the power of collaboration.
“The entire experience in Nepal has helped shape me as a person, as well as contributed to my professional identity as a naturopath, future business owner and social enterprise entrepreneur,” said Chloe Thomas, Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy).
“Being in such a big group of like-minded individuals really reiterated the power and importance of industry networking.”
“This was the first time they really got to experience having a support network around them during times of challenge and how valuable that was to their professional development and growth,” said Ashley.
An aligned commitment to giving back to the community
Specifically, it is the Nepalese women who had drawn Anne in and provided a compelling pull to serve and collaborate with them for the past 10 years.
“I call it a Velcro country. It's got those little Velcro hooks, and they get stuck in you, and you can't get them out,” said Anne, who focused her midwifery studies in Nepal.
Anne’s commitment to give back to global healthcare paired beautifully with the project’s core subject, Entrepreneurship, Professionalism and Business Skills in Health, that prompted students to consider an idea for a social enterprise.
The importance of seeing a health system in Nepal and comparing it to the health system in Australia was immeasurable.
“When you go to a country that has 30 million people living in poverty with limited access to health services - you go ‘wow’, it’s really eye opening for our students,” said Anne.
Nepal has a relatively much higher maternal and infant mortality rate than Australia, Anne shared. Currently standing at 350 – 400 per 100,000 women. In comparison, for Australia the rate is 6. Amelia Orr, Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy), was moved to plan a social enterprise purposed with fundraising to contribute to the incredible work currently in progress assisting women in Nepal to birth in a safe environment.
“The experience forced me out of my comfort zone and gave perspective on different challenges,” said Amelia.
Lessons learned, connections made, and a commitment to continue to do good
The students are far more flexible, confident and empowered within their own sense of what they can achieve. Now, a personal barometer exists to understand their potential to influence social change.
“My time in Nepal gave me the space to think about who I am as a person, and who I want to be as a practitioner,” said Amy Landman, Bachelor of Health Science (Chinese Medicine). “Learning from powerful women in business and connecting with countless health professionals, academics and fellow students inspired me both personally and professionally.”
“This community and our trip together to Nepal has changed me. It challenged me and empowered me. I feel bigger now than I did before I went and I truly think that I will be a better practitioner for all my experiences,” said Katelyn Bolin, (Bachelor of Health Science in Naturopathy). "This experience has inspired me to take agency over my life, participate more, push my boundaries and trust in my own potential.”
Having explored this intensive incubator real-world teaching model, Ashley and Anne are set for the next iteration in January 2024, as well as extending the model to a group of business students from the university.
“The results were so special, it’s like we have bottled lightning,” said Ashley. “Therefore, we must be cautious in our review of the program that we don't take away the essence of what we've achieved here.”