Flinders University nursing student Ruri Yamamoto had just returned from a Darwin placement, cut short by the closure of state borders, when she was thrust into the heart of South Australia’s COVID-19 response.
The third-year student, who already has three years of nursing experience in her home country of Japan, applied and was immediately accepted for a position in the drive-through COVID-19 testing team at SA Pathology’s Hampstead Collection Centre—one of 41 such testing stations across the state.
When Ruri started her role on 30 March, the testing clinics were just beginning, grappling with the sudden and urgent need created by the unknown virus.
“It was a very stressful environment—the staff were stressed, people were anxious. And because it was all new, we had to start everything from scratch. Everyone was so busy, there was not a lot of time for instruction, and we had to learn by observing,” Ruri says.
Over the month of April, the Hampstead team of nine—which usually included three or four nursing students on each shift—tested on average 150 people per day, for a total of 4,500 by the end of the month. They worked from 8am to 4:30pm each day, five days per week, and sometimes six or seven days in a row, to help contain and manage the spread of COVID-19 through South Australia.
As well as testing, Ruri’s tasks included educating and explaining to people how they can best protect themselves.
“This is a very important job as a nurse. For people coming to the clinic, the requirements are very strict. They have to stay in isolation until they receive their test results, and they might not know this—they want to go shopping and see their friends after, so we have to make sure they know they have to stay in isolation until they find out if they tested negative. We also tell them when to wear masks and gloves, and when to take these off.”
Ruri says she was not concerned about being exposed to the virus herself—”we have seen some very sick people in the clinic but we have lots of protective equipment, so that did not make me anxious”—though she did find it initially challenging being a non-native English speaker working in such a busy and stressful environment.
“I am the only Asian and everyone else is a native English speaker, so I can’t talk as quickly as them.”
But she has found the experience extraordinarily rewarding.
“South Australia is doing really well, responding to this situation very quickly and locking down straight away. I really feel grateful to be given this job. I really wanted to be able to contribute something as a nurse from Japan and as a student, to do something for the public, and I am learning a lot.
“This job really needs everyone working with each other as a team. This is very important in a clinic, and especially when everything changes every day. All of the staff and students have been very supportive and working as a team.
“It is also very different from what I have done before—the working style is very different from where I come from—so it has been a very good experience to put myself in an Australian working environment.”
Since its hurried beginnings in late March, the SA Pathology COVID-19 testing program has become a world leader in testing rates, helped by the rapid transition to a digital portal to deliver results within just 60 minutes of a clinic visit. This has played a critical role in South Australia’s low infection rates. As of late May, SA Pathology had carried out 83,000 tests for coronavirus.
This international experience has been invaluable to Ruri, because her aspiration has always been to help people in countries around the world.
“Since I was a child, I always wanted to help people, in Japan and also in support of organisations like UNICEF. But I didn’t really think of becoming a nurse. I first studied American and English literature, but then I travelled overseas and met beautiful people, and I thought, if I become a nurse, I will be able to go to many places and help many people. So, then I quit university and went to nursing college in Tokyo.”
After three years of nursing, Ruri had saved enough money to travel again, and undertook volunteer roles in countries including Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam.
“I found you need to be really skilful and knowledgeable in these countries, because often they don’t have enough doctors, so this was one of the reasons I decided to study a bit more. Having English skills is also very important so that I can communicate not only with patients but also doctors and nurses all over the world.”
Ruri was working as a nursing assistant in Sydney before being accepted into the nursing program at Flinders University, so she could register as a nurse in Australia.
“At first, I didn’t think of becoming a nurse in Australia, but I love Australia and I met beautiful people here. At Flinders University, I have met beautiful teachers and have felt really supported. I really feel grateful for that.”
Ruri says she loved her seven-week placement in Darwin, where she not only worked with many Aboriginal patients but also enjoyed the multi-cultural staff environment, including many Indonesian and Nepalese as well as Australian staff.
“I’m really excited to be a nurse in Australia. When I was a nurse in Japan, I also loved it. You have a lot of opportunities everywhere—not just in hospitals, but also in community and family health. I’m very interested in working in a community and supporting their lives, in mental health as well.”
Ruri is looking forward to participating in a final placement in the coming months. She is inspired to continue her nursing adventures in Darwin working with Indigenous communities after she completes her degree.
Each year, students from all around the globe come to Flinders University for a world leading education. Many of them, like Ruri, have adapted quickly to contribute to the wellbeing of their host country during this extraordinary challenge. At the same time, many students—both domestic and international—are experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19 restrictions. You can help by giving to the Matthew Flinders Scholarship Fund, ensuring that talented students of today continue their studies and fulfil their potential for tomorrow.