Long-term care and travel nurse Britt Watson, RN, shares her incredible story of the time she spent on a medical mission in Zambia.
In today’s busy world, many people long for time off work to immerse themselves in unique experiences. That’s something that long-term care nurse Britt Watson appreciates about travel nursing. Because of the flexibility travel nursing provides, she was able to go on a medical mission in Zambia recently.
“I really love being a nurse, and being able to go there and work as a nurse; it was just such a big deal to me. I never would have imagined that that was going to be part of my life. I’m just so grateful I even got to do it,” Watson says.
Here, she talks more about how the medical mission in Zambia changed her and why she’s excited to go again in a year.
First, there were some hiccups
Watson made it to Africa and met her fellow teammates, but her luggage didn’t make it. That didn’t get her down. She knew to go with the flow.
“I just thought, ‘I’m in Africa. Like I was looking around, and everybody was friendly and smiling, and everybody that I had met so far that was on the trip was super friendly, so I was just really excited. So, I had to go buy clothes from the gift shop, and I had to meet some of the people in some crazy outfit the first day, but I was so happy to be there.”
The medical mission used the most basic resources
The clinics were set up at three different school buildings in small villages, Watson explains. “The first two were poor villages with very rudimentary schools. Just concrete buildings,” Watson says.
The nursing triage was set up outside the cramped buildings. But because it was hot outside, the team would move to the side of the building to follow the shade.
“Out there, we could only really do basic care, showing people how to stretch, giving them ibuprofen and Tylenol for headaches, educating them — that stuff to them is a huge deal,” Watson says.
The medical mission in Zambia totally changed her perspective on life
“The trip far exceeded what I expected it to be. I felt so happy and peaceful the whole time I was there. I was so happy to be there and going out all day and doing the clinics; it’s hot and you don’t have lots of resources, but I was just so happy to be there and be able to help those people even in a very small way,” Watson says.
“One of the best parts about those clinics was I got to show them how to do stretches and stuff because a lot of the people out there, they’re sore and they have arthritis and they walk a lot and they carry things on their shoulders. I loved being able to show them different exercises and stretching and watching them smile back at me. It just made me feel good because I was communicating with people even though there was a language barrier some of the time.”
The mission also has made her more grateful for everything in her own life. “It really put a lot of things in perspective and made me really grateful for my life. I’m determined to go back there and take some things to them that they could use,” Watson says, “even small things like sunglasses they can really use.”
Developing deep bonds
Watson says she particularly felt a close connection with a mom and the mom’s four kids.
“A lot of the people there, they bundle their kids up in all these clothes and hats and stuff because they think that they’re going to get sick if they don’t do that. I was able to teach the mom that it was safe for them to be without winter hats and clothing. I really bonded with that family for some reason. I just spent a lot of time with them. I went to the grocery store the day before and I got some stickers and little stuff that I could get to give to them — and bubbles, those kids were so excited about the bubbles. That family — I felt just like we were two moms bonding.”
Watson also made lifelong friends with other volunteers, including the nurse she roomed with.
“Alyssa, she’s a nurse too; it was like we were best friends immediately. I don’t know how we got along that well, but it was immediate. So, her being on that trip made my trip good, too, because we got close right away. Everybody I was there with I loved, the whole team. We still keep in touch.”
She saw parts of the world and nature she had never seen
Aside from the deep bond she formed with her patients and their families, Britt couldn’t have been more excited about the safari. “I really loved going on that safari. I’ve never done anything like that ever, and I just felt peaceful the whole time we were there.”
Britt shares that one hotel where she stayed was surrounded by trees — which were full of monkeys. “They were hanging around, swinging around right outside of our rooms. And on safari we also got to see elephants, walk with lions and hold their tails. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
She plans to keep doing travel nursing
“I feel like traveling has really increased my skill set a lot. I’ve gotten really good at some things that I was decent at before, but because I have to utilize the skills so often now, I feel like I have a really good nursing tool bag,” Watson says.
She hopes to go back for another medical mission next year. “I never would have imagined that was going to be part of my life. I just love being a nurse and to be able to go over there to help. I’m just so grateful for the opportunity.”
She urges other nurses who want more flexibility to give travel nursing a try. It’s a rewarding lifestyle that allows you to have enriching experiences you wouldn’t get any other way.