BY TASHA LUNNY
In Africa, a Conestoga student used two small buckets to shower as well as to wash her clothing and dishes, during her three-month stay. Two other students got down and dirty with a local tribe while learning to build a mud hut. This summer, seven level four, Conestoga bachelor of science in nursing students travelled far and wide to learn and teach. Their experiences have forever changed the way they view nursing.
On Nov. 11, Whitney Shore, Ashley Ratelle and Jacqueline Hovius shared the pros and cons of their international nursing experiences during an informational session with Conestoga students and faculty. They talked about living conditions, travels and most of all, their first experience in African hospitals.
Shore stayed at a Zambian nursing school when she spent her summer working at Macha Mission Hospital in Choma, Zambia. Completely submersed in their culture, she got to room, live and work just as the Zambian nursing students do. Although she was warned prior, Shore didn’t realize how different the nursing roles were until she saw it first-hand.
“It was cool to see how Zambian nursing students are taught,” Shore said. “… By the time they graduate they would have learned how to deliver a baby and they would be expected to do that. They would be expected to take on a doctor’s role in case they go to a rural hospital and there is no doctor.”
Shore spent her time in Choma, working in the maternity and labour and delivery wards. She also got the opportunity to get outside the hospital walls while working in a maternal health clinic, which would offer family planning and immunizations. Once a month the clinic would pack up its supplies and travel to different communities. They would supply HIV testing, medications and child immunizations as well as spend time educating women on a variety of topics from dehydration to disease.
Hovius and Ratelle spent their 13 weeks at Mount Meru Regional Hospital in Arusha, Tanzania. They spent the first six weeks in the hospital’s maternity ward. There they experienced their biggest moment of culture shock while watching how the nurses would interact with the women during birth.
“The women didn’t have any epidurals … and they were expected to experience the pain in silence. When they screamed or anything like that, the nurses would slap them because it was just not tolerated. It was really, really hard to see,” Ratelle said.
Not having the right equipment or supplies was a major challenge and forced the women to have to adapt to their surroundings. The hospitals often didn’t have incubators and some would run out of beds or gloves. They also had to learn to use tools that were different than what they were used to back home. Instead of a stethoscope, Ratelle and Hovius learned to use a small blue, horn-like device to measure fetal heartbeats using vibrations instead of sound.
“One thing I took away was just being flexible and working with what I have. I think that was a really big challenge at first, but it’s something we really took away from this experience,” Hovius said.
Another major challenge was overcoming language barriers. Although English is a common language in most cities, all three women struggled when communicating with their patients and other staff.
“… Even some of the doctors and nurses did not speak very good English. Sometimes it was a real challenge working, because we didn’t really understand some of the things that were going on,” Ratelle said.
The students learned to use body language, hand signals and to memorize important words to make communicating with their patients easier.
The experience taught the students so much, personally and professionally, but with all the positives came negatives. The women all agree that the hardest thing was how many lives could have been saved given the right supplies.
“Seeing the tragedy and the horrible things we saw in the hospital, I just kept thinking that if they were in Canada they would survive. With the lack of resources, they just didn’t have the capacity to save lives like we do,” Ratelle said.
From milking a goat, safaris, playing soccer with local students and visiting a spiritual healer, the students got to experience a different way of life, leaving them all with an overwhelming amount of appreciation.
“I’m so blessed for everything I have here,” Shore said. “You learn to not take anything for granted.”