We took some time to find out about one of our WEM19 delegates – Dame Claire Bertschinger DBE DL. DSc DSSc DHEd (Hon Causa),MSc RGN.
Following on from a successful nursing career in the UK, Claire’s first post abroad was as a medic for the Scientific ExplorationSociety in Panama, Papua New Guinea and Sulawesi. She went on to accumulate vast experience from many years working in emergency disaster relief, primarily in war zones with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Claire has received multiple commendations for her work, including the International Human Rights & Nursing Award, a host of Honorary Doctorates and has frequently been voted as one of the most influential nurses of our time.
Michael Buerk, the BBC journalist who first broke the story of the famines in Ethiopia, wrote:
“Claire’s biography ‘Moving Mountains’, the story of the woman who inspired Live Aid, one of the true heroines of our time. Claire is the dyslexic tomboy who grew up to spend her life patching up humanity’s self-inflicted wounds, working with the wounded, the sick and the dying, in the battlefields and famine camps of the late twentieth century; a life other lived beyond breaking point that threatened to destroy her”.
“An ordinary woman who did extraordinary things and really did move mountains”.
What are you doing at the moment?
I am the Director for the Professional Diploma in Tropical Nursing at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which by the way also accepts paramedics on to the course.
What was the inspiration for getting involved with remote medicine?
I was brought up in the countryside and spent most of my time outdoors in the fields and woods, tracking and climbing trees. On holiday we went wild camping and swimming across Europe which, coupled with my A&E and Tropical Nursing training set me up nicely for expedition life. As a child I loved learning about different cultures and dreamed of living and working among them.
The impact of Band Aid and Live Aid reverberated across the globe and made a huge impact in low-resource environments, but now 30+ years later and with the world facing similar problems, what do you think we can do to improve health in remote areas of the world?
We need to encourage all bio-medical health care professionals to prepare themselves with additional training before they go to work in resource poor situations, so that they are able to manage the new challenges of foreign language, culture, climate, tropical diseases, lack of water, electricity and poor sanitation. In the long run this will enable them to adapt quicker to the situation be economically productive, and make a real difference whilst, acting as capacity builders – helping others to help themselves is the at the heart to improve health for all.
What is the one session that grabbed your attention in the WEM19 programme?
I think everyone who wants to work in humanitarian emergency assistance would greatly benefit from the “Caught in the Middle of a Multiple Casualty Terrorist Attack!”
Having been held at gun point, involved in kidnapping, mass war casualtys from, shooting, mines or bombing, I know the thin line that you are walking to stay alive and help others live. Therefore, remember the 6 P’s. Prior Planning Prevents P*** Poor Performance.
What advice would you give someone looking to work as a medic in resource poor situations?
Be prepared so that you are ready to push yourself beyond your perceived limits. Do this by physical training e.g. wild camping, marathons, Duke Edinburgh gold Award, etc. Learn survival techniques so that you have a better chance of being able to make a positive difference to those you go out to help. Learn from research based experience by taking courses such as those run by WEM, Redr, Professional Diploma in Medicine & Nursing, MSc Extreme Medicine and the HELP course, for example.
And finally, what is the one thing that always makes it into your suritcase when you’re off somewhere remote?
A Swiss Army penknife and lipstick!
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