Médecins Sans Frontières /Doctors Without Borders – Raewyn Turner Interview


Interview with Raewyn Turner Registered Nurse by Shirley West Medcall Regional Manager

Raewyn has very kindly agreed to be interviewed about her volunteer missions with

Médecins Sans Frontières /Doctors Without Borders

Raewyn is a temp Registered Nurse with Medcall Health Personnel & also volunteers as a Theatre Supervisor for Médecins Sans Frontiers.

Médecins Sans Frontières is an international, independent,medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural disasters and exclusion from healthcare. The organisation was founded in Paris in 1971 by a group of doctors and journalists who believed that all people have the right to medical care, regardless of gender, race, religion or political affiliation.

Why did you start volunteering for Médecins San Frontières?

I found myself sitting on the couch in Perth in 2004 watching TV & realised that I could not do this for the next 20 years. What better way to put my first love of theatre nursing & my second love of travelling, together. I caught the travel bug back in 1983 when I travelled in a group by truck from Johannesburg to London over a 5 month period.

I wanted to be part of a community and get to know the locals and couldn’t think of any other way to be able to live and contribute to life, in an African village. So I signed up.

I had an interview in Alice Springs, went through the recruitment process  and was on my way.

How many field assignments have you completed?

12 in total . I have done two six-month assignments and the remainder have been between six and eight weeks at a time, depending on the context. Trauma assignments are quite demanding, so a shorter time is more suitable.

Which countries have you been to?

Mainly Northern Africa & The Middle East. In 2010 I went to Haiti after the earthquake. I have also been to Papua New Guinea.

Where do you live when on assignment?

Usually in compounds , and we hire local people to look after us.. We live in whatever they live in & eat whatever they eat ,which can be interesting. We have unarmed guards and whenever we have to move from accommodation to the hospital or between towns we have to check with all authorities to make sure there are no ‘activities’ and it is safe to move.

As a volunteer what expenses do you have?

Airfares, accommodation, and insurance are taken care of by MSF, and we get a daily allowance for food and some personal items. A small monthly salary or stipend is also paid into our bank accounts at home..

Tell me about your role?

During my latest field assignment in Saa’da, Yemen I was the Theatre Supervisor managing national staff.  Most of  the staff are already nurses,  but I have had to train locals to be theatre staff. When I was in  South Sudan I taught four young men from town who had no previous experience how to run the theatre and scrub and scout for Caesareans. They did really well so it was very rewarding.

The patients often arrive in the back of trucks , or on donkey carts.

How do you communicate back home?

In my first mission in 2004 I was in Darfur, Sudan. Here there was only a satellite phone which could be accessed twice a day. Now we have ipads, laptops & skype, though it really depends on the project, they’re all different..

You do not like to talk about your assignments?

 I compartmentalise what I have seen. I wear two hats Raewyn the Médecins Sans Frontières volunteer and Raewyn temp Registered Nurse. There was one time when the Sydney Médecins Sans Frontières  office asked me to do a 30 minute talk to 2000+ delegates at a nursing conference in Perth, but thankfully I was needed in Afghanistan. I would much prefer working than giving a talk.

Do you meet other MSF volunteers on assignment?

A Yes we work in close teams in the field, and we come across people we have known from other assignments or may have met at our New Zealand Support Group social occasions. It’s so good to see them again and hear about what they have been doing.

Do you have a favourite mission?

Yes, my first assignment in Dafur, Sudan and Gaza which I have been to four times with Médecins Sans Frontiers.

Tell me about the Médecins Sans Frontières Infrastructure?

It is a huge organisation, the doctors & nurses usually get all the recognition. But we could not work without the drivers, mechanics, administrators, logisticians, accountants etc. And there is so much more than trauma. We run HIV and tuberculosis (TB) programmes, as well as gender-based violence, mental health, vaccinations and psychological support programmes.

Everyone who volunteers has to have the relevant qualifications and at least two years experience in their field. Travel or work experience in the developing world or other resourse poor settings is also essential.

A number of doctors & nurses take their annual leave or leave without pay to do assignments.

Age is no barrier , a number of surgeons are either starting out of finishing their career.

Médecins Sans Frontiers  have a Facebook page and a weekly newsletter that is emailed to all field workers informing them of upcoming field assignments. There’s also a great deal of information on the website for people who might be considering a future in humanitarian work.

What is the hardest part of an assignment?

Having to say goodbye to my staff, knowing you’ll probably never see them again.

Where to next Raewyn?

I’ll soon be going to work in a theatre in Hobart for three months.

Where do you see yourself in the distant future?

I’d like to do a few more field assignments with Médecins Sans Frontières, then my retirement plan is to travel to South America and just wander around.