While Catherine Browning, DNP, RN, PMHNP-BC, now works at the Arthur Center Community Health in Mexico—well, in Mexico, Missouri, that is—there was a time when she worked overseas. In honor of International Nurses Day, we asked her about her experiences. Here’s what she had to say (what follows is an edited version of our Q&A):
When you worked as an International Nurse, where did you work? When? What did your job entail?
I worked at a Psychiatric Nursing Faculty in Kuwait from 2001 – 2009. I worked at Kuwait University and I worked at the Public Authority for Applied Education and Training’s College of Nursing. My job entailed teaching BSN and ASN students, both Kuwaitis and Arab and African students of varying nationalities. I taught in the classroom, and I accompanied my students to their clinical settings in medical hospitals, clinics, and the state psychiatric hospital. I provided counseling to many people over the years, including many war victims.
Why did you choose to go overseas to work as a nurse?
For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to live and work on the other side of the world. As a child, I dreamed of being a nurse in Africa. Later, I had fantasies of being in the Middle East. I wanted to help people, especially those of other cultures. I knew I could learn so much from them and I wanted to offer what help I could. Though I dreamed of going there someday, that dream seemed far away for many years and almost unlikely to be achieved.
Was I in for a huge culture shock. Not only was the flight a grueling 17-plus hours, but once I arrived to the Kuwait airport, security questioned and detained me for hours. There were signs of military and security presence everywhere. After all, Saddam Hussein had only invaded Kuwait during the Gulf War 10 years previously.
Kuwait University had a rigorous schedule for me to follow during the week of visiting hospitals, meeting with colleagues and students, giving talks and interviews, and touring the psychiatric hospital. I was totally overwhelmed by the language, the heat, the intimidating men in flowing gowns and headdresses, and the somewhat antiquated hospitals. I almost talked myself out of working there and then the second to last day I toured the psychiatric hospital. I was terrified. I kept thinking, “How can I do this? I don’t understand the language. I am not familiar with the culture. How do I know who to trust and how can patients know it’s safe to trust me?” And then I stepped foot on the women’s psychiatric ward, and after that the men’s psychiatric ward, and suddenly I knew everything would be OK. I recognized the client’s symptoms and immediately knew how to interact with them non-verbally. I learned to ask for help, and I felt a great connection with the patients.
By the time I arrived back to America a few days later, there was an email awaiting me saying I was offered the job.
How was working as a nurse different there? What were the biggest challenges of your job?
Working as a nurse in the Middle East didn’t take all that much adjusting. I learned right away that nursing is nursing and the patients we serve and the professional nursing values we uphold are the same everywhere. As long as I remained true to what I know and believe about nursing, I was confident and comfortable in my nursing and teaching roles. The biggest challenge was learning to maneuver through the complex bureaucracy to finally get my housing and my salary and my health insurance set up. Those things took months and that was a stressful time.
What were the greatest rewards?
My greatest rewards of working in Kuwait were:
- Forming amazing, life-giving bonds with my students, their families, and new friends I grew to know and greatly respect and love. The Arab people were so kind and hospitable to me. They appreciated the wisdom and learning I had to share and so often I felt like I really made a big difference in someone’s life.
- Having whole new cultural and travel opportunities in that part of the world. I studied Arabic, listened to lots of Arab music, wore Arab perfume, burned Arab incense, grew to love Arab food, and shaped my life to be more and more like those living in the culture. I loved the hot, dry climate and my health was better than ever before. I traveled during my vacation time to most of the Arab countries. I was so excited to spend time in Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine/Israel, and the Gulf countries. I also got to know really well people from Africa and India, and I even traveled to India, which was another dream come true.
- The job provided more holiday time and greater income than I was accustomed to and that was very beneficial for my mental health. Having lengthy holiday and vacation time, in particular, really taught me the importance of resting, renewing, and enjoying life.