Darren Dewhurst is an Emergency Medicine Consultant with 28 years’ experience.  Born in Liverpool, he now lives in Yorkshire, where he works at Barnsley Hospital.

As a UK-Med register member on behalf of the UK Emergency Medical Team, Darren helped to deliver Disaster Preparedness training in Myanmar and returned in early December 2021 after six weeks as part of UK-Med’s response to Papua New Guinea, where he worked alongside local healthcare staff responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We caught up with him, just before he left Papua New Guinea.  He explains how these experiences have improved his adaptability and motivation back in his daily role back home.

Building relationships

“My experience in Papua New Guinea has been very rewarding personally and professionally. As an emergency physician, I’m used to treating patients for a brief period to instigate treatment and provide reassurance. But here, my role was working on the wards, so I was developing rapport with patients every day.

I was on first name terms with lots of patients who have been here for incredibly long amounts of time. One patient I developed a real relationship and rapport with is Barry, the headmaster of the local secondary school. In his initial week, Barry deteriorated quite rapidly to the stage where I wasn’t sure if he’d survive. There were two or three days where I expected to go in in the morning and he wouldn’t be there anymore.

Thankfully, he’s engaged with everything we’ve tried to do. He’s amazing and has responded really well. Because the local nurses have all been his students, they were all worried about him, so it’s been very rewarding for the national staff as well. He’s got through the worst, he’s well on the way to recovering. He’s someone who’s really important to the local community. He will be a patient I will remember forever.

The hospital staff, too, were really appreciative of what we’ve done. They were engaged in everything, and they are proactive to develop better care for their patients. Many of us developed close relationships with staff members and that friendship will continue beyond the end of the deployment.”

Improving communication skills and adaptability

“Going on any response is going to develop you as a doctor because you have to adapt the situation you are placed in.

In Myanmar, quite a lot of the training was developed on site at the time. You have to develop the training quickly and you have to be able to pitch it at different levels of nurses and doctors. Every time you do this in different places with different people, it improves your skills as a teacher and a trainer.  It’s helped me develop my teaching skills, and my ability to adapt to different environments and different situations I don’t normally face in my day-to-day job back in the UK.

In Papua New Guinea the hospital is very resource poor, which means you have to be proactive and think differently to challenges.  This skill will help me to face the increased demands in the departments when I get back home; using resources better and developing training for staff members to deal with situations we will face in the coming months.”

Renewed vigour for working in the UK

“The difficulties with COVID-19 and working in the emergency department… it’s becoming progressively more stressful.

International responses stimulate different things in you as a clinician. For someone who has worked in NHS for 25 years, this experience has made me reflect on what I’ve done and what I hope to do in the future.

The experience has allowed me to not only use my clinical skills, but also reinvigorated me to make me want to get back and support my colleagues back home.”

Support back home

“The support I’ve had from my colleagues back home was fantastic. I was supposed to go on call in November 2021, but at very short notice – both my colleagues and my trust were wholly supportive of the slightly earlier response to Papua New Guinea, leaving in mid-October.

It speaks volumes about a forward-thinking hospital trust which values its staff and provides them with the ability to challenge themselves and develop in different circumstances.”