UVM to Uganda

Sarah Abrams, associate professor of nursing:

The class that we're talking about is PRNU 241, which is the public health nursing senior class and practicum for our undergraduate nursing students. We were in Kamuli, Uganda, which is about three hours north of Kampala, the capitol of Uganda.

Our goal was to teach students about global health, also to teach them about working in global environments, cultural competence, working with people of different cultures, for example, understanding how to adapt their messages of health for another culture.

This is the first time I'd taken a group. There were 10 students. So what we decided (or what I decided they would do) is actually spend half the day in a mission hospital, learning about the diseases that affect Ugandans, about the health care facilities, and actually provide some care, in conjunction with nursing students from the Kamuli Mission Hospital School of Nursing. But then we were to go out into the community to do public health work and to look at issues of water and food production, household hygiene, child health, mothers' concerns and so forth in the afternoon.

So a typical day was spent in class in the morning with the Ugandan students for about an hour and a half. We met every morning while we were there and talked about comparative healthcare issues in the United States and Uganda. And then, we went onto the wards and students had some rotations between maternity and labor and delivery ward, medicine, surgery, the operating room, pediatrics. So they did that until about lunch time, and then we left the hospital, rested during the very hottest part of the day most of the time, and went out in the late afternoon to talk to families and ultimately, we decided on some projects to work with the families in helping them improve their quality of life and their health facilities in their own homes -- building plate stands, for example, to move the dishes and the cups up off of the ground so that the animals didn't eat off of them and they were kept clean after they were washed; assisting people with building hand-washing stations, or what are called tip-tops. We also did some garbage pit digging to teach people about composting, and we built fuel-efficient mud stoves -- more, we learned about building them. We actually contributed, but we were taught by the Ugandans about how to do that. And then we did some gardening. I think those were the main activities that we engaged in. So that was a typical day. Students were primarily very tired by the end of the day.

We have no grand illusions about saving the world. What's important is building a sustained relationship with the community in Uganda, understanding how to work with the population to achieve the goals they want to achieve, how to bring them closer to readiness to make changes, and more importantly is for our students to learn what it's like to work in a developing country.

Our students will not necessarily stay in Vermont, but even if they do, Vermont is changing with many people coming do Vermont from other areas of the world. So it's very important they understand other cultures, what their experiences are, how to tailor their healthcare -- both the actual physical care and their health promotion activities -- towards people and their different experiences. That will serve them well wherever they go in the United States -- and perhaps some of them will even become international public health nurses.