Issue 8
Monday, 23 May 2016
Charles Darwin University
Dr Colin Watson: “If you take the nurses away, you’ve got nothing”
Dr Colin Watson: “If you take the nurses away, you’ve got nothing”

Nursing lecturer tells of Libyan tragedy

By Patrick Nelson

A Charles Darwin University lecturer has spoken of his experience in a troubled African nation to illustrate the value of nursing to a national health system.

Alice Springs based lecturer in health Dr Colin Watson said events in Libya in recent years had been tragic but nonetheless relevant to nursing students who were considering their career options.

“While medicine is regarded as a prestigious profession in Libya, nursing did not have the same profile because it was seen as menial work,” Dr Watson said. 

“The Libyan health system had relied on foreign nurses for many decades but many of these nurses left during the 2011 Arab Spring uprising and the health system collapsed. 

“If you take the nurses away, you’ve got nothing; it’s that simple.”

Dr Watson was speaking to Bachelor of Nursing students in Alice Springs, shortly before they departed for hospitals and clinics around Australia to undertake their clinical placements.

In 2011, Dr Watson worked with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in the Libyan city of Misratah. He returned to Libya last year during the summer semester break, this time as a nursing supervisor in the emergency room of Al Abyar hospital, 60 km east of Benghazi city.

“The project in Al Abyar was in support of the local hospital, specifically to upgrade the emergency room facilities and to provide training for the nurses and doctors in trauma management. 

“It was also a nursing project. Normally when an MSF team goes into a country, one expatriate nurse will supervise national nurses, but in Libya there were very few national nurses. 

“Medical students in Misratah were trained to work as nurses in order to increase the level of patient care.”

Dr Watson said that little had changed in Libya in the past five years. 

“The country has transitioned from revolution into civil war and remains politically unstable. The foreign nurses have not returned and the health care system remains in a state of collapse.”

Dr Watson said to the students: “I tell you this story to reinforce the position and the value of nursing and nurses in a health care system. 

“As you go on community placements, be open to the context you work in. You may find a completely unexpected career path within the sphere of primary health care.”