April 2018

Jackie Newton is a staff nurse working on board the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital

Tell me about your work on board the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital, the world’s only ophthalmic hospital

Orbis is an international non-profit organisation. Since 1983 the organisation has been fighting blindness around the world as we believe no one should go blind from conditions that are treatable, curable or preventable. The organisation is headquartered in the USA with offices in 14 countries and we have worked in 92 countries. The Africa head office is in Cape Town, South Africa.

Millions of people go blind every year, millions more suffer poor vision, because they can’t get access to the care most of us take for granted. 4 in 5 people are blind from avoidable causes and 90% of these people live in developing countries. Orbis helps developing nations build the skills, knowledge and resources to provide eye care in their communities using our unique tools: one being the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital.

The Orbis FEH is complete with a state of the art operating theatre, sub-sterile, patient recovery and laser treatment rooms, so that local doctors, nurses and medics benefit from hands on training from Orbis volunteer faculty. As the Staff Nurse, in addition to carrying out the planning visits, I create nursing programmes to suit the needs of the local nurses.

You travel a lot as part of your work. Tell me about some of the places you have travelled to teach eye nurses

I have travelled to so many incredible places and, on the weekends, we may get time off to do some sightseeing. I remember times when I was on an FEH Programme in Peru and a few of us organised a trip to see Machu Picchu, also the Great Wall while in China, Taj Mahal in India, Zanzibar while in Tanzania and the Grand Canyon after a restock in Phoenix Arizona. When not in hospital mode, the FEH is used for goodwill tours to raise awareness and funding. I am currently in Palm Beach where the FEH which is raising support for our programmes.

You worked as a nurse before moving to training – what drew you to nursing?

I did not choose nursing as a career. My mother encouraged me to become a nurse. I was reluctant at first but after 6 months into my training I realized that I really enjoyed serving and playing a part in a patient’s recovery from illness. I found I had compassion for people and was able to empathize with patients. Bringing comfort to someone who is sick is rewarding. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment.

What did you want to be as a child?

I always wanted to be an air hostess when I was a child, to travel the world and to serve people. When flying on the Orbis plane from one country to the next I am sometimes tasked with being the flight attendant for the flight and so my childhood dream has come true but at the same time I get to be part of a team whose vision is to transform lives through the prevention and treatment of blindness worldwide.

What work would you do if you couldn’t do this?

It would be work that is hands-on and practical and where I would be serving people. I am attracted to being part of teams who help people in countries that are in crisis. If I was not working for Orbis at the time of the Ebola crisis, I would have been interested in training to help in this type of crisis and going over to help these patients.

By Margaret Harris (Featured in Business Times, 1 April 2018)