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My Australian life: Amrit Pokhrel

Posted: 15 March 2024

Nepal, In Australia, Scholar,

Amrit Pokhrel is a scholar from Nepal who is studying a Master of Public Health at the University of Melbourne, with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship. He is a paediatrician with 12 years of experience in various roles within the Nepali healthcare system. In the past two years, he led the epidemiology and outbreak management section during the peaks and declines of the COVID-19 pandemic. This experience marked a significant career shift for Amrit—from being a clinician to becoming a public health manager. He recently took the time to share his Scholarship experience with us in his own words.

In pursuit of expanding my knowledge, I received a prestigious Australia Awards Scholarship to pursue a Master of Public Health at the University of Melbourne, Australia’s top-ranked university. The anticipation of learning from Victoria’s renowned healthcare system was exhilarating. While the academic aspects were enriching, I felt compelled to delve into the practical application of public health in the field.

Despite facing a setback in my application for the university’s ‘Student at work’ program to gain field experience in public health, a piece of advice from a senior colleague became a turning point. Leveraging my proficiency in seven languages, including Nepali, English, Hindi, Urdu, Russian, Maithali and Doteli, I joined an organisation dedicated to assisting culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities in Australia.

Amrit (second from right) interacting with other Nepali scholars based in Melbourne at the Scholars Forum 2023.

Since then, I have facilitated healthcare services for more than 150 non-English-speaking individuals from Nepali, Indian, Pakistani and Russian backgrounds. These interactions not only allowed me to bridge linguistic gaps in communication between service providers and clients but also provided valuable insights into the functioning of public health services at various levels, from hospitals to communities.

Given my ongoing studies and lack of a personal vehicle, the extensive and reliable Victorian public transport system has become my ally. Armed with my Myki travel card, water bottle and umbrella, I navigate the city efficiently using the Metro, V-line, tram and bus services to reach diverse locations across greater Melbourne.

The satisfaction derived from explaining complex medical situations in a native language, guiding parents through their children’s physical and neurological development, or assisting in mental health crises is immeasurable. Whether it’s addressing children’s educational challenges, supporting aged citizens during home visits, or aiding families in delicate conversations about terminal illnesses, family violence incidents or child abuse, my role has become a vital link between diverse communities and service providers.

Amrit exploring the bustling streets of Melbourne with other Nepali scholars based in Melbourne.

This unique journey has not only expanded my academic understanding of public health, but also deepened my commitment to fostering a healthier future for the citizens of Nepal.

This firsthand exposure to public health interventions within Victoria has been an eye-opener, connecting textbook knowledge to real-world applications. As I witness and learn from these experiences, I am keenly aware of the wealth of knowledge I will take back to Nepal. In Nepal, the healthcare system remains largely hospital-centred, with community-based public health services focusing primarily on infectious diseases and maternal and child health. The learnings from the Victorian healthcare system have motivated me to improve the existing healthcare services and integrate non-communicable diseases and mental health services into the mainstream of the health system to positively affect the health and wellbeing of Nepali citizens. The lessons I have learnt from the vibrant tapestry of Melbourne’s cultural diversity also inspire me to envision a more inclusive and equitable healthcare landscape in Nepal.

Upon my return home, my primary objective is to leverage the insights gained from my master’s degree to contribute to the transformation of Nepal’s healthcare system. The recent shift to a federal system of governance in Nepal, with increased decision-making power and resources at the local level, presents a unique opportunity for impactful change. Drawing from my exposure to the Victorian healthcare system, I aim to enhance the public health infrastructure in Nepal. This involves empowering local authorities to identify, plan and invest in health-related issues, aligning with the diverse healthcare challenges faced by different regions.

Nepal grapples with a double burden of diseases, with non-communicable diseases accounting for two- thirds of total deaths. While infectious diseases still pose threats, the pressing need is to address non-communicable diseases and mental health issues. The institutional focus of the Nepali healthcare system requires a shift towards community-based healthcare services. Inspired by the well-established community-based healthcare system in Victoria, I plan to introduce evidence-based practices in Nepal that extend healthcare services to the grassroots level. This entails designing and implementing programs tailored to address the unique healthcare challenges in Nepal’s local communities.

Amrit (second from right) posing for a photograph with Alice Tamang, a proud Dharug woman (far left) with other Australia Awards scholars at the Scholars Symposium in Melbourne.

Furthermore, the importance of an integrated healthcare information system has become evident during my exposure to the Victorian public health system. Upon my return to Nepal, I intend to spearhead the development and implementation of a comprehensive health information system. This system will facilitate the sharing of client details across all levels of care, fostering a more cohesive and efficient healthcare system in Nepal.

In summary, my return to Nepal is driven by a commitment to utilise my knowledge and experiences gained in Australia to positively affect the healthcare system in Nepal. By working collaboratively with local authorities, introducing community-based health services and implementing an integrated health information system, I aspire to contribute to the broader vision of a more equitable, inclusive and effective healthcare system in Nepal.