Secret Lives of Staff: This country nurse speaks fluent Mandarin

Evan Ulbricht’s workspace and even his body bear witness to his time in Tibetan China – the tattoos visible here are a Chinese dragon and a Tibetan proverb.

Upon starting his career at a country NSW hospital, few would have guessed clinical nurse consultant Evan Ulbricht would soon be building a medical centre in the mountainous terrain of remote Asia.

Evan is the tuberculosis (TB) area coordinator for Western Sydney Local Health District; a role that frequently puts him in contact with people who regularly travel between Australia and overseas.

The language, cultural and clinical skills Evan needs for this role were honed during the 11 years he spent working as a nurse in China.

Evan checks the blood pressure of a patient, whose husband (pictured) had a physical disability as a result of a motor vehicle accident. In the foreground is some ‘infamous’ yak butter tea. Picture: Phil Soffe

“I studied at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst, and after I graduated I worked for a couple of years at Orange Base Hospital. Then when I was 23 my wife and I moved to China,” Evan said.

“The town that we lived in was called Shangri-La, so it sounds very nice. It was incredibly cold, high altitude, beautiful scenery, and beautiful people.”

Evan worked for a non-government organisation on a range of health projects, including establishing a medical and rehabilitation centre in a rural part of Yunnan province.

Evan treats a man with debilitating TB meningitis. The patient made a full recovery over the course of about a year. Picture: Dr Mark Zimmerman

He moved back to Australia with his wife and three kids in 2014, but is still in touch with patients he treated, including a man who was bedridden with a mysterious and debilitating ailment.

“Having very few options in a fairly remote part of China, I decided to commence him on TB medication and just see whether or not he would improve because there was little else we could do,” Evan said.

“After a week he became more alert and awake, after about six months he could walk, and after about nine months he could start to make sounds and talk again.

“Essentially he made a complete and full recovery. He was really the talk of the town and I became locally famous after that!”

Evan said life in the famously spiritual part of Tibetan China changed his perspective on life.

One of his tattoos is a Tibetan proverb that roughly translates to: ‘words are mere bubbles of water, deeds are drops of gold’.

“You can’t live in a Tibetan area and not be touched by the religion, it’s all-pervasive,” Evan said.

“It certainly opened my mind to different ways of thinking, there’s no doubt. I still identify as a Christian but I would certainly say I’m a lot more liberal in my beliefs than the way I was raised.”

It also gave him plenty of skills that come in handy working in western Sydney.

Evan sees patients on the nomadic grasslands. Picture: Dr Doug Briggs

“I use Mandarin Chinese here a lot, it’s very, very helpful,” Evan said.

“I’ve never once used my Tibetan! We’ve never had a Tibetan patient through these doors, which is very unfortunate for me but fortunate for them.”

TB is a curable, infectious disease that causes symptoms including a cough that lasts for more than three weeks, fevers, unexplained weight loss, night sweats, and blood-stained phlegm.

For more information, contact the Parramatta Chest Clinic or the Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055, or visit