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Nursing and Physician Shortage – Even in PNG!

Without a doubt, Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a developing nation in the Western Pacific that faces inadequacy and weakness in healthcare infrastructure.  The country is under-resourced in terms of medical infrastructure and although steadily improving, the overall standards of health and healthcare in the country are really not that good.  Problems such as these are caused by compounding and interconnected factors such as lack of professional human resources (physicians and nurses), weakened technical capacity, and slow advancement of nursing and medical sciences. 

The practice of medicine in PNG is relatively straightforward and similar to other countries.  Patients are seen at the office, clinic, or at the hospital and the physician conducts the interview to obtain important and pertinent medical history.  Afterwards, physical assessment and examination is done to support or refute differential diagnoses.  Simple laboratory and radiographic tests may be ordered to further arrive at a definitive medical diagnosis.  The physician then orders treatments, poultices, and medicines which the patient brings to the pharmacy.  Follow-up visits and appointments are usually indicated for re-evaluation. 

PNG physicians face daunting professional healthcare challenges.  They have learned to adapt well to healthcare environment where important medical equipments and necessities are either lacking or scarce.  One of the prominent challenges is the lack of adequate continuing medical education for personal career enrichment and professional growth and development.  The Medical Society of Papua New Guinea conducts yearly medical symposium where physicians with distinctions are invited to present research and/or medical practice updates.  Physicians can subscribe to the one medical publication and journal—Papua New Guinea Medical Journal.   There are no specialty organizations or specialty journals for reference use.  For the most part, physicians rely heavily on partnerships with non-governmental organizations (NGO) like FHI360 (formerly Family Health International) when it comes to scientific and medical updates, in-service training, and refresher programs.  FHI360 often brings and invites specialists from abroad to provide technical advisement and assistance in areas such as sexual health and STI care.  Other public and governmental entities from New Zealand and Australia also provide technical and professional assistance in terms of medical continuing education. 

Nursing in Papua New Guinea augments the services rendered by the medical professionals and aim to provide healthcare services in both urban and rural settings.  Working alongside physicians, nurses are at the forefront of delivering holistic care in primary and specialty care areas.  Nurses feel and face the same dire situation as that of their physician counterparts where profound challenges related to shortages in human resources, medical equipments, and supplies are almost an everyday occurrence.   Just as with the physician colleagues, PNG nurses have learned to adapt well to a healthcare environment that is tightly squeezed.   Continuing nursing education is also a prominent problem in PNG.  The PNG National Nurses Association also conducts yearly nursing symposium.  However, since there is no advanced degree preparation program either at the Master or Doctoral level, nursing science is relatively stagnant.  Often, invited presenters at the annual symposium are foreign trained nurses as well as physicians.   

Medical and nursing fellows like me who are trained in the provision of Western medicine provide technical advisement, teaching, and training in areas such as sexual health, tropical infectious diseases, tuberculosis, and advances in medical pharmacology.  I am happy to be a part of this Round of fellows and privileged to impart and share the knowledge about nursing and medicine as well as the experience that I have as an Adult Nurse Practitioner.

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