Partnering for regional response readiness

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Sarah West (author), SGT Ray Vance (photographer)

Location(s): Da Nang

Topic(s): Exercise PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP

Royal Australian Navy Nursing Officers, Lieutenant Commander Alison Zilko (left) and Lieutenant Angela French (right), with Vietnamese Student Doctors in front of the Emergency Reception of Da Nang General Hospital during Exercise Pacific Partnership 2017. (photo: SGT Ray Vance)
Royal Australian Navy Nursing Officers, Lieutenant Commander Alison Zilko (left) and Lieutenant Angela French (right), with Vietnamese Student Doctors in front of the Emergency Reception of Da Nang General Hospital during Exercise Pacific Partnership 2017.

Exhausted, dirty and dripping with sweat, two Royal Australian Navy Nursing Officers piled into a small van and weaved through a sea of mopeds and motorbikes towards their accommodation.

It was day one of the Vietnam leg of Exercise PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP 2017 and it had already been unforgettable.

Working at the Da Nang General Hospital, Lieutenant Commander Alison Zilko - a Reserve Nursing Officer with more than 31 years of experience in civilian and military hospital settings - had spent the day in the busy Emergency Reception (Emergency Department).

Communicating via interpreters and hand signals, she collaborated with the local doctors and nurses to care for roughly three-hundred patients who poured through the doors with serious illnesses and injuries.

She also spent at least an hour conducting resuscitation.

"This one man was brought into the Reception after drowning," Lieutenant Commander Zilko said.

“His wife, and around thirty other people, watched through the glass windows of the critical care room while we worked tirelessly to try and save his life.

"Sadly, we couldn't save him."

That wasn't the only patient Lieutenant Commander Zilko tried to resuscitate on her first day at Da Nang General, but fortunately, she was able to help save the next one.

She spent the next ten days in the Emergency Reception, sharing knowledge and experience, exchanging ideas, teaching student doctors and nurses, learning the Vietnamese way of practicing emergency medicine and rolling up her sleeves to help save patients.

"There is no question this experience has made me a better nurse, more aware of my patient's cultural and economic differences and how those aspects might affect a person's experiences within our own health care systems," Lieutenant Commander Zilko said.

"I hope that I have also made a difference here, particularly through the time I have spent with the student doctors and nurses who will one day run this hospital."

Lieutenant Angela French from HMAS Albatross, south of Sydney, was assigned to Da Nang General's Intensive Care Unit for the week.

"While much of what we do and what we are trying to achieve is the same, it has been really interesting to see the subtle differences in how we treat patients,” she said.

Lieutenant French said the work placement was as valuable to the local hospital staff as it was to the international team. 

"We worked with medical and nursing officers from the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan," Lieutenant French said. 

“Our primary mission was to gain a mutual understanding of each other's practices, and the practices of the host nation, so that we can effectively respond together as partners when there's a natural disaster in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region .

"I hope that we have imparted some of our knowledge and experience to the local hospital and emergency service practitioners.

“I gave a talk to some local hospital staff on infectious disease control measures, and found them so eager to learn how we do things.

"There were language barriers, and it's not always easy to communicate medical terminology through an interpreter, but I found that where there's a mutual goal, there's a way.

“Caring for people has its own sort of global, non-verbal language,” she said.

Having completed their assignment at Da Nang General Hospital, Lieutenant Commander Zilko and Lieutenant French will now travel south with the rest of the Exercise PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP team to Nha Trang, the final port visit of the exercise for 2017.

PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, and aims to enhance regional coordination in areas such as medical readiness and preparedness for man-made and natural disasters.

Australia has been involved in every iteration of PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP since it was started more than 12 years ago after the multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief response to the 2004 tsunami event in Banda Aceh.