Nurse and Humanitarian Honoured by Robert Gordon University
Dr Dame Claire Bertschinger was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Education at Robert Gordon University's graduation ceremony on Tuesday 13 July.
Claire Bertschinger, the daughter of a Swiss father and English mother was born and raised in Essex, England. On completing school Claire trained as a nurse at St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington London, where her passion for working overseas grew. Following a period of successfully working in Accident and Emergency, Claire finally achieved her dream and became a nurse/medic for the Scientific Exploration Society Expedition to Panama, Papua New Guinea and Sulawesi on "Operation Drake which was a round the world expedition led by British explorer John Blashford-Snell. As a result Claire faced all sorts of challenges but her previous nursing experience provided her with knowledge and skills to work in this environment.
In 1983 Claire joined the disaster relief group of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Her nationality allowed her to go to places that she would have otherwise been excluded from. However, it was Claire's work during the famine of 1984 in Ethiopia that raised her profile as a nurse and brought to the world's attention the horror of famine, starvation and suffering. At this time Claire was working for the ICRC in Mekele, the capital of Tigray Province in Ethiopia. She ran two feeding centres and in her own words describes the challenge of only being able to take in 60 or 70 new children to the feeding station at a time, whilst faced with the reality that thousands more were in desperate need of food, care and attention. As a nurse, Claire was required to use all her previous skills and knowledge to make some of the hardest decisions of her life, life and death decisions on a daily basis.
It was during this time that a BBC news crew and the reporter Michael Burke arrived in the famine stricken area and Claire highlighted the immensity of the problems, challenges and catastrophic disaster that was emerging. This was broadcast around the world and those images will forever stay on many people's minds and conscience, yet they raised awareness and a world wide campaign to address the famine, known to many as Live Aid.
Claire has since worked in over a dozen war torn countries including Afghanistan, Kenya, Lebanon, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Liberia and has fought to save lives in some of the harshest conditions known. As a nurse Claire has demonstrated the need for compassion, decision making and clinical care in surroundings that many of us would find immensely challenging.
Claire's book, "Moving Mountains" describes the harrowing details of the challenges and reality of nursing abroad and the courage of a woman who has undoubtedly contributed to the lives of thousands.
Claire is currently the Director of the Diploma in Tropical Nursing at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and is also an Ambassador for the African Children's Educational Trust and a voluntary worker in the UK for Age Concern. She has received many awards and recognitions for her outstanding career which culminated with being appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2010 New Year Honours for services to Nursing and International Humanitarian Aid.
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