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A Day in the Life of… A Volunteer Nurse in an Emergency Field Hospital

Released on - 17/11/2021

A Day in the Life of… A Volunteer Nurse in an Emergency Field Hospital

Working in perioperative care can lead practitioners to roles in a wide range of environments, from clinics and lecture theatres to day surgery centres and field hospitals. At AfPP, we are passionate about sharing real-life stories that inspire practitioners to explore all options available to get the most out of their career!

Your perioperative career path can be varied, challenging and hugely rewarding. Today, we are taking a look at a day in the life of a volunteer nurse in an emergency field hospital.

The below account is written by Alison Herbert who volunteered at the emergency field hospital set up in Les Cayes, Haiti, in August 2021 following an earthquake.


Ali Herbert A Day in the Life

Ali in the operating room prepping a patient for surgery.

Up at 5.45am in a tent in Les Cayes, Haiti, ready for breakfast at 6.30am. No water at the showers at this time of day, so a wipe down with wet wipes suffices.

A general meeting follows breakfast for all the staff - who number about 65 in total -and then a short medical meeting.

By 8.00am, we’re ready to meet in the Operating Room (OR) tent for team brief. Then the doctors go off and round while we set up. I hold a short video call with a company in the UK, meeting with a biomed engineer and anaesthetist to help resolve a problem with an anaesthesia machine. The problem is solved and details are given to the medical director.

My team are a Surgical Tech and a Registered Nurse (RN) from the USA. I’ve worked with the nurse before at a previous emergency field hospital. The Surgical Tech has been brilliant at helping me sort out the OR and sterilising area that we set up two weeks ago.

The OR is one tent divided into an OR and sterilising area. An operating table, simple anaesthetic machine, diathermy and suction are the main equipment. There are also operating lights on beams that we can wheel around and a few shelving units. It took us the morning to unpack everything and set up.

Les Cayes Field Hospital

The Emergency Field Hospital layout in Les Cayes. The operating room is the one with a brown coloured top.

The rest of today’s to-do list comprises a mix of cases for the orthopaedic and general surgeons. Fixing fractures with various bits of metalwork and skin grafting to wounds we have spent time cleaning over the previous week now that the skin grafting equipment has arrived.

I am grateful for the A/C unit fitted at the end of our first week.

Once the first case is underway I take the list of supplies needed to the supply tent where the stores people will happily gather what is required for us to complete everything that day. Mindful of what we have, they let me know if an item is in short supply.

The ER doctors call in for advice about patients. The medical director wants to know exactly how many patients we treat each day and the number of surgeries completed.

A loud noise overhead lets me know that another patient is arriving by helicopter. We don’t have an official helipad as we are based in the grounds of a college, but their soccer field is large enough for a small helicopter to land.

We have a small team of admin staff who go and hold on to the tents nearest the soccer field to ensure they are not flattened! I check out the number of injured patients brought in to try and guesstimate the work we will have later or the next day.

Meals are saved for the OR team as our long day progresses and we eat when we can. The surgeons finish operating and I chase them out to review patients that have been admitted while they are operating.

The sterilising has to continue, we keep at it until everything is ready for the next day. We have two sets of most things and several small suturing sets which we will use, but they are also used in the out-patient/emergency room.

I finish work at about 10.00pm, having spent the time between sterilising loads writing emails and chatting with my husband. Time for bed and then do it all over again tomorrow with the team happy to work hard for as long as it takes to see our patients recover both physically and mentally from the trauma of the earthquake.

Custom WHO Poster - Ali

My sense of humour. In the beginning, I worked with an all American team who were not used to working with an English OR nurse (I have previously been a theatre sister!) I found this poster and one was made for me. On the other side was our adapted WHO checklist.

Alison has now completed her work in Haiti and is currently working in Palau with a Japanese Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) called Peace Winds.

Peace Winds is dedicated to the support of people in distress, and threatened by conflict, poverty, or other turmoil.

If you are interested in finding out more about volunteering in field hospitals, please contact our Military Specialist Interest Group (SIG) at

We are committed to helping you reach your career goals. For free advice on the next steps for you, log in to access our Professional Advice Service (PAS). You can also check out our upcoming webinars and study days - gain the CPD hours you need to progress in your perioperative career! 

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