22 October 2021

'We are so lucky in Australia': midwife Clare Immens reflects on her time overseas

| Tom McGann
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Clare Immens

Clare Immens working in the northern Ethiopia region of Bahir Dar. Photo. Clare Immens.

Moruya midwife Clare Immens has spent her career in the medical industry, volunteering as a midwife in developing nations.

While she primarily works on the NSW South Coast, Clare’s career has taken her around the world, from Mongolia to Ethiopia and Vanuatu to name a few.

Volunteering as a midwife in developing nations has shown Clare first-hand the poor conditions these hospitals are in and have reminded her Australians must not take their medical facilities for granted.

“We are so lucky in Australia,” Clare said. “We have access to some of the highest quality care in the world.”

In order to volunteer overseas in these communities, Clare first became a registered nurse in 2002 before becoming a midwife in 2009.

Since then, she has worked as a nurse in Brisbane and Melbourne before moving to Orange in NSW where she completed her midwifery training.

After working in Moruya hospital as a midwife for 10 years, Clare has since moved into private practice five years ago.

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Her first time volunteering overseas was in Kolkata, India in 2008, working at Mother Teresa’s Hospice.

After being touched by this experience, Clare hasn’t stopped travelling regularly to developing countries to work as a nurse and midwife.

“My most recent volunteer placement was with the Barbara May Foundation in Northern Ethiopia”, she said.

“I worked with local midwives supporting them with education and training.”

The Barbra May Foundation brings safe birth and fistula surgery at no cost to the poor women of Ethiopia.

“I would love to work with them again,” Clare said.

While the experiences overseas have been incredible and inspiring, they have also been eye-opening and at times, confronting.

Clare said many people are in need of the most basic necessities.

“Developing country health care is not easy work,” she said.

“Malnutrition, poverty, education and violence are all barriers that affect people’s access to healthcare. In such a cycle of poverty, women and children suffer the most.”

Having seen these inequities and third-world hospital conditions first-hand, Clare says while Moruya Hospital does have issues these developing communities can only imagine having a facility like it.

“Even with Moruya Hospital in much need of a makeover, it has in abundance highly-skilled, caring staff and resources that all of these developing countries could only dream of,” she said.

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Despite these conditions, the community members are some of the happiest people in the world.

Clare says the smiles on the faces of women when she cares for them makes the job worth it.

“Watching their faces light up when you use a Doppler to listen to their baby’s heartbeat, or provide them with basic vitamin and a smile – working alongside these traditional and local women and midwives is a major part of why I go,” she said.

“It is such a beautiful privilege to meet and provide care to these women.”

While COVID-19 travel restrictions have halted Clare from volunteering in these nations, she says she cannot wait to go back.

“I have always stuck with shorter volunteer placements as I have children and work commitments,” she said. “My end goal has always been MSF – Doctors Without Borders.

“These placements are a minimum of nine months and in a few years when I’m not so needed here, I’ll disappear to work with them.”

The main lessons Clare has learnt from her travels are that Australians must not take their medical facilities and freedoms for granted and while these nations may not have the technology that exists in this country, they are still some of the happiest people in the world.

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