Studying the Diploma in Tropical Nursing - Krystal's story

Krystal chatted to us about her time at LSHTM studying the Professional Diploma in Tropical Nursing (PDTN) online in 2020.
Krystal with newborn in her arms

"After graduating from high school I worked abroad in Ecuador for a short time and that experience inspired me to be a nurse. I went on to study nursing in the USA and received my bachelor’s and doctorate of nursing practice, and during my studies I worked with various organisations abroad. My first post after finishing nursing school was as a civilian nurse on a NAVY hospital ship doing humanitarian work throughout SE Asia. 

While working abroad I realised that there are so many differential diagnoses that I have no exposure to in the USA. One day when a child came to the clinic in Guatemala with a rash I was sure it was Molluscum Contagiosum, but then it hit me that there are a number of rashes that are common in tropical regions that I know nothing about and have never been exposed to. I was worried I was missing something. I knew that if I really wanted to continue to make global health the heart of my career I needed to prepare myself through a programme like the PDTN so that I would be more confident, knowledgeable and better prepared to make and treat diagnosis in tropical settings and LMICs.

I did the PDTN in Spring of 2020 when we made the transition from in person to online. When I started the programme, we were on campus all day. It’s a long but exciting and engaging day. Each lecturer is a specialist in their field and you can feel the passion they have for their areas of study. Every lecture was brilliant. As we transitioned to online due to the pandemic, I went back home to San Francisco to work on the front lines. The schedule continued in a similar format in that classes were all on one day of the week and the calibre of presenters was maintained. 

The classes are live and you can interact with the presenter and ask questions. The quality of the lectures did not change when we switched to online. They were still just as inspiring, engaging, and offered directly transferable knowledge and skills for working in LMICs. Stay on top of the lectures and take good notes. I often thought that since everything was recorded I would go back and listen to the lectures again later. But there is so much material that just wasn’t possible for me in the end. Stay attentive the first time around, just because it’s recorded doesn’t mean you’ll have the time to go back later. 

I was afraid we would not be able to complete the laboratory session of the course, but over the weeks I was impressed by everything we were able to learn without being in an actual laboratory. The practical modules and practice tests were interactive and even became fun as I got better at recognising the parasites. The complex topic was dissected so well that even I, someone with minimal laboratory experience, could feel confident in a lab.

It can be hard to get to know people very well when working online instead of in person, but do your best to create a few connections. Not only for the fact that everyone in the course is stellar, but it’s good to have someone to run things by, proofread your paper and study with.

Students from all over the globe join the PDTN. We all came from every possible nursing background: from paediatrics to infectious diseases, midwifery to A&E. The PDTN student body is very diverse in terms of culture and expertise, yet like-minded. It was electrifying for me to be gathered with so many other people that all had common global health goals and aspirations. Everyone in the group had some exposure to working in a global health setting, which enriched our learning experience as students were able to share their experiences and perspectives from the field.

“The skills and knowledge gained in this course are invaluable for those pursuing a career in global health.” 

The course gives you numerous skills needed to handle medical care and humanitarian aid in resource poor settings. We gained hands-on skills to identify parasites in the field with a basic microscope. Introductions to cannulation and suturing were also provided for those that did not have previous exposure. We learned how to evaluate settings to prepare for emergency care during a humanitarian crisis, and learned the basics of identification, treatment, and prevention of common tropical diseases. So now when I’m presented with another paediatric skin rash I will feel confident in my diagnosis and treatment.

My medical training in the USA did not give me much exposure to neglected tropical diseases or the organisation and implementation of humanitarian care and, most importantly, how to do it in a sustainable and culturally appropriate way. The skills and knowledge gained in this course are invaluable for those pursuing a career in global health.

Before the pandemic changed my timeline I was scheduled to return to Guatemala after the course to begin working with a small non-profit. I still plan to do this when travel is safe and borders open up. It has opened my eyes to possibilities and I am eager to see what other doors may open after I finish my work in Guatemala. The possibilities appear endless after completing the programme.

For anyone considering the Diploma in Tropical Nursing - don’t hesitate, go for it! My only regret is that I wish I had done it sooner."