Humanitarian work opens a nurse's eyes to the world's ills - and thrills, writes Josh Jennings.
In 2008, aid worker Anthony Flynn was performing humanitarian work in Ethiopia when he decided to temporarily leave his base to help a team working at another one 16 kilometres away. However, his transport options were limited to walking or getting on a horse. A horse was arranged, Flynn says, but he was too big for it, so he jogged and walked alongside the horse while his guide rode it and carried supplies.
"The experience of having to get to a satellite treatment and vaccination centre by horse and having that pony presented to me as my means of transport was pretty novel," he says.
As a worker with humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Flynn is privy to lots of rare experiences around the world. Currently, he's the head of mission/medical co-ordinator in Papua New Guinea's Bougainville Island, where he's stationed to work alongside health authorities to build the island's healthcare capacity. He oversees MSF's operations and activities and is accountable for the associated medical outcomes.
When Flynn isn't on assignment with MSF, he continues to work as a casual nurse in Australia, predominantly within Melbourne and Sydney. Nursing in the critical care environment today, he graduated from La Trobe University in 1996 and says he began to fathom early in his career that there could be opportunities to work as a nurse in the developing world.
"During my nursing training, I travelled to South Africa and Zimbabwe and pretty quickly gained an appreciation for what I could contribute as a nurse in those environments," Flynn says.
Flynn subsequently completed a master's in social sciences (international development) at the University of Melbourne in 2005.
He says it was this that led to him discovering MSF. "As soon as I heard about the organisation during the course, I called them, applied and got my first assignment to Uganda in pretty quick succession.
"I really saw that I could implement all of the skills and experience I'd gained as a critical nurse in Australia in Uganda, where we were diagnosing up to 50 cases of malaria a day."
There's a significant transition to make between life on assignment overseas and life back in Australia, Flynn says. "It's about reassimilating pretty quickly and brutally to the Australian rhythm, dynamic, social priorities and general environment. I find it challenging ... But I'm blessed to have a really great family and social support network who get it."
For the next two to five years, Flynn says, the extent of his involvement with MSF is dependent on weighing up his professional and personal priorities. "I'd like to see how my career could evolve ... but with my personal priorities, I have to work out what the best future plan is. But career development is definitely something that's fostered within the organisation."