By Amanda Boundris
Hannah Bell returns home from a shift during her nursing placement with the Macha Mission Hospital in Zambia in the fall of 2012.
Having returned recently from a clinical placement in Zambia, a landlocked country in Southern Africa, McMaster nursing student Hannah Bell is reflecting on the experience that’s pointed her towards future international work.
"This was really just a way to get a taste of if it’s something I want to do long term, and, it definitely is," said Bell.
The School of Nursing’s Global Health Professional Practice placements offer senior-year students a unique opportunity to learn about the broad determinants of the health of diverse populations, comparative health care systems and the role of the nurse in cross-cultural and resource-constrained environments.
The program has just wrapped up another successful year. Bell was one of 20 students in 2012 who spent 10 to 12 weeks developing their nursing skills and knowledge in a different part of the world; places like India, Kenya, Nepal, Thailand and Nicaragua, to name a few.
Since 1984, over 240 McMaster students have undertaken international or Canadian outpost placements in more than 25 countries worldwide and in six provinces and three northern territories in Canada.
Bell completed her placement at the Macha Mission Hospital in Zambia from Sept. 1 to Nov. 12, 2012. She practiced in pediatrics, the operating room, maternity, an HIV clinic, and community nursing.
Bell found there are fewer resources available in Zambia and family is more involved in care there.
"Nurses handle the medical side, but the humanistic, caring aspect is left up to the families, not like here in Canada, where nurses are expected to be compassionate and caring," she said.
Another challenge was the shortage of nurses and high volume of patients. Bell said it was common to have two nurses with 20 children waiting for care. However, this helped her develop time management skills; learn how to adapt to different situations; and how to handle a heavier workload.
"I strengthened a lot of my skills. You were the one there who had to do it all, from inserting nasogastric tubes for malnourished children, to providing medications," said Bell.
"It heightens your creativity as a nurse," she added. For example, she would have to do basic wound care dressings without tape, and have to find places for patients when overloaded with no beds available.
Michael Ladouceur and Iris Mujica are assistant professors of nursing and co-chairs of the School’s Global Health Education Committee.
Ladouceur said through the experience students "move beyond being citizens of Canada to citizens of the world. It enlarges their worldview."
Mujica added: "The uniqueness of our program is that our students maintain constant communication with their clinical tutor back in Canada."
The tutor is a McMaster faculty member with whom the student connects each week to discuss their challenges, highlights, and ask questions. Maintaining a reliable Internet connection is often an issue, but the process has really evolved over the years.
Mujica, a McMaster alumna, can remember doing her placement in Temuco, Chile back in 1998 and having to use phone, fax, telegraph and snail mail to stay in touch with her tutor because email was slow.
"But to me it was very important to have that connection with my clinical tutor," she said. "The support of the faculty member is so important. We constantly hear that from the students."