Articles and Case Studies

My Elective - Kavieng, Papua New Guinea

27 May 2012

The flight arrived after dark in Papua New Guinea’s eastern most province, New Ireland.

Member Name: Garth Douglas
Destination: Kavieng, Papua New Guinea
Year: 2010
Hospital: Kavieng General Hospital

I was met at Kavieng airport by a dense tropical humidity, mosquitos and a local guide who travelled via long boat. As the sun rose over the crystal topaz water of the islands the next morning I knew I had made the right decision. The local villagers were friendly, the tropical heat was welcoming and the water temperature was 29 degrees!

Working in Kavieng

Kavieng General is a 90 bed hospital, which services a catchment of over 150,000 people covering a large geographical area. At the hospital I was given a warm welcome. My colleagues and I were split into four, rotating between OBGYN, surgery, internal med, and paediatrics. On my third day of OBGYN I was asked to deliver a baby. The nurses guided me and after experiencing a range of emotions that included fear, shock and happiness, I caught and weighed a healthy squalling 2.8kg baby girl. I’ll never forget that day.

Another experience that caught my breath was an emotionally charged emergency caesarian. After an intense and complicated procedure a healthy baby boy was born to a proud mother.

During my general medicine rotation a lot of patients were ill with tuberculosis and malaria. It was an eye opening experience to see the devastation these diseases cause in the third world, where malaria is endemic and healthcare is unable to successfully treat both diseases long term. Assisting during amputation of a right hand where the patient suffered a machete laceration, completely severing all vasculature and nerves of the lower limb.

Lastly I spent one week gowning up for surgeries which consisted of hysterectomies and appendectomies, both of which I was able to assist with. Scrubbing in was a common occurrence and the surgeon in charge was incredibly skilled and very happy to teach.

Challenges working in Kavieng

The one-on-one time with doctors was irreplaceable and with practice, the challenge of understanding and speaking medical Pidgin English became easier.

Making a difference in Kavieng

Without a doubt the most important observation I’ve taken away from my elective in Papua New Guinea is that of the happiness and friendliness of the locals. Different cultures have different expectations of healthcare and although health outcomes are better here in Australia and curable, diseases can mean death in Papua New Guinea. Regardless the people are happy, carefree and seem thankful for their quiet life in tropical paradise.

Travel opportunities

On the weekends there was a lot of exploring to do. My colleagues and I went on boat trips throughout the islands, snorkeling expeditions, kayaking, jungle trekking to WW2 ruins, big game fishing and Kavieng has some of the best scuba diving in the southern hemisphere!

For the keen surfers Kavieng is also renowned for its seasonal long board waves and reef breaks. Sitting in an early war production Japanese zero fighter plane while scuba diving off Nusa Island about 1km from the hospital.

My recommendation

During my stay I rented on a nearby Island, where the lodgings are monitored by security and the Australian ex-pat staff are very friendly and helpful. The best piece of advice I can offer anyone who is planning their elective to Kavieng, is to make contact well in advance! “PNG time” and internet speeds make communications difficult so don’t be surprised if a reply takes months to reach you!



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