‘In short, I’ve gained professional resilience’

As a paramedic in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, Kallai Sugden has been met with challenges he would never encounter in Australia. We asked Kallai about life as a volunteer, what he’s learnt on assignment and how the experience has changed him.

What does your role mostly involve?

I engage with a high-risk, high-needs civilian population in a culturally diverse and resource poor environment. As a clinician, I improve patient safety and clinical care outcomes by responding to high-needs aeromedical retrievals and road response emergency calls with qualified and student paramedics.

Using these experiences, I identify educational gaps in clinical practice and develop and design learner-centred curriculum to promote improvements in clinical care outcomes.  

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Australian volunteer paramedic clinical instructor Kallai Sugden on his volunteer assignment in Vanuatu. Photo: Harjono Djoyobisono
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Australian volunteer paramedic Kallai Sugden abseiling on a joint training activity between ProMedical and Rescue Services while on assignment in Vanuatu. Supplied: Kallai Sugden

What has been the most surprising aspect of your assignment?

I was well prepared for the challenges involved in working outside a 'western' healthcare system. I had the opportunity to engage with a number of colleagues that had volunteered in Vanuatu in the past. Probably not something everyone has.   

Here in Vanuatu healthcare resources are not as readily available; that being said, the people of Vanuatu are a resilient and resourceful people. Some healthcare practices are not ideal, not even conventional, yet their cultural medicine does appear to have some efficacy in the absence of evidence-based healthcare practice.

The ability of the native Vanuatu people to improvise, adapt and change in a resource poor environment continues to pleasantly surprise me.

— Kallai Sugden

What is the greatest thing you have gained during your assignment in Vanuatu?

In short, professional resilience. As a healthcare professional I know what my patient clinically requires, the problem is the healthcare system in Vanuatu does not always have these resources. This in essence challenges my professional and clinical approach to patient management. In Australia clinicians have clinical practice guidelines that are contextualized according to patient needs. Here in Vanuatu I find myself having to re-contextualize clinical practice guidelines according to continuity of care.

In Australia we have a rich healthcare system with plans and procedures to ensure the receiving hospital meets the clinical needs of the patient. Here in Vanuatu pre-hospital clinical interventions are based on numerous other factors such as hospital resource availability, hospital medications and hospital staff education.

Although my ambulance has all the same equipment and medications you would find in an Australian ambulance, practicing here requires a high level of clinical reasoning, clinical judgment and clinical interventions far exceeding that of a typical Australian ambulance service. 

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Australian volunteer Kallai Sugden (right) with his colleague at ProMedical, Yvonne Ngwele. Photo: Harjono Djoyobisono
Two men, an Australian Volunteer and a Vanuatu partner, look into a ship porthole.
Australian volunteer paramedic clinical instructor Kallai Sugden (right) with ProMedical paramedic George Jack checking the Hyperbaric Chamber, a medical device to help divers with decompression sickness. Photo: Harjono Djoyobisono

How do you find life in Vanuatu?

I love living in Vanuatu: its people, its culture; the diverse community with shared common values, objectives and ideals. Leaving life in Australia also meant leaving my closest friends and family but I have made many new friends and had many new experiences.

I wake up every morning, the air is humid and clean with a slight crispness about it, my house overlooks a tropical reef, the morning sun reflects the vibrant colours of fish and coral beneath the quiet tranquil waters of Vanuatu.

— Kallai Sugden

This does not mean that living in Vanuatu is without its challenges and it does test your professional and personal resilience. I returned home to Australia recently and was overwhelmed by the sheer glory of Coles, it was an amazing experience – ha! 

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Vanuatu is an archipelago nation of 83 islands, requiring the use of aircraft, marine transport and road vehicles to retrieve patients. Photo: Kallai Sugden
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Australian volunteer paramedic Kallai Sugden on assignment with Promedical in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Photo: Harjono Djoyobisono