Many students are not keen on undertaking an away placement – they may think it’s inconvenient, expensive, and that it won’t really add much to their learning or contribute to their future practice. But it’s not at all, it’s a great experience that everyone should try, if they can.
I was lucky enough to be able to rent a room for the duration of my placement from my mentor who runs a guest house as well as being a district nurse. My room was lovely, I got breakfast and dinner, and had access to everything I needed including the washing machine, ironing board etc. I really couldn’t have asked for better accommodation and hosts.
Travelling from Stirling to Barra is quite a long journey, around 10 hours, if you go by train and ferry, which is the cheapest option, around £25 single. The ferry journey can be quite boring so I would advise taking a book or something to do. I’d also recommend taking a blanket and pillow so you can sleep because the seats are also quite uncomfy. When you arrive at Castlebay one of the nurses will probably collect you and take you to your accommodation, otherwise there are buses and taxis which can be pre-booked.
The other option is to get the plane from Glasgow airport to Barra, it is quite expensive between £30 and £75 single depending on how far in advance you book from Flybe, but it only takes about an hour. The plane is tiny – seats around 20 including the pilot. It is a really good experience though as Barra has the only tidal airport in the world – the beach is the runway!
The Island has a 5-bed hospital called St. Brendan’s. The hospital includes 3 single rooms and 1 twin room, a treatment room, a physio room and a dentist. The community nurses are also in the same building and have their own room upstairs.
There is one doctor who is on call 24/7 and is based in the GP surgery which is around 0.5 miles from the hospital, though new plans are currently being developed to build a new hospital which will house everybody together to make working as a team easier.
Within the hospital everything is nurse led as there are no other health professionals which are constant on the island. All Physio therapists, occupational therapists, dieticians, speech and language therapists etc. are all mostly based on the isle of Lewis in Stornoway which is the main hospital for the western isles, and they visit Barra occasionally. There is also only 1 midwife on the island, who only works 7 hours per week, and only 1 health visitor who is very willing to take student nurses on visits and also to baby clinics – I even got to go on the ferry to the Isle of Uist to visit a few new born babies!
During my time in Barra there weren’t many patients, but I got to spend time with lots of different healthcare professionals – health visitor, midwife, diabetic nurse, practice nurse, community nurses. There were also lots of training days whilst I was there – management of the acutely ill patient, psychoactive substances, continence management and advanced life support. So, although it might be quiet compared to Forth Valley there are plenty of opportunities to keep you busy.
The island itself has very few shops and amenities, so if you do go to Barra I’d recommend bringing everything you need. The islanders are very friendly and welcoming, but during the winter there isn’t much to do. There are, however, many events during the summer such as a festival and various fetes/open days, and the beaches are lovely as well, even in the winter.
Overall, I’d definitely recommend going to the Isle of Barra for a placement, to experience how it’s done in a remote and rural area.
Holly McMurray, 2nd year Adult Student Nurse
University of Stirling
Published 13 April 2016