The impact of Ghana: lessons from health education

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In March, countless hours of research and planning culminated in a life-changing clinical practica experience for seven senior nursing students. They, along Associate Professor Barbara Ott, PhD, RN and Adjunct Assistant Professor Elise Pizzi, MSN, CRNP, traveled to the Republic of Ghana on the west coast of Africa for a global health promotion experience.

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According to students Virginia McGregor and Lauren Cebulski, preparation for their community health presentations began months in advance. “We began our community assessment long before leaving for Ghana,” say Virginia and Lauren. “We did the majority of our research online and by way of email correspondence. That way, we were able to gain a better understanding of the community’s needs.”

The Internet, as well as other resources provided through the Falvey Memorial Library, proved helpful in establishing a community based plan of care. “We determined that tuberculosis, hepatitis B, and overcoming negative stigmas associated with physical deformities were areas in need of significant intervention,” says student Jacqueline Gentile.

Students presented educational programming to communities identified as being in need. They focused on health promotion topics such as “Living well with your disability,” “Preventing tuberculosis,” and “Preventing hepatitis B.” 

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Unlike typical community nursing courses, other factors come in to play when preparing for community nursing interventions oversees. Dr. Ott explains, “I was really worried about water. One might not think that something we take for granted in the United States could be such a huge obstacle, but it is impossible to be productive in the community without the availability of enough clean water. Often times, this proves to be an issue in underdeveloped countries.” 

Since this was the first trip to Ghana for the College, Dr. Ott began her survey of the community to prepare for the course a year in advance to ensure a successful experience for all involved. Housing, food, clean water, transportation, safety, and proper immunizations were just a few of the factors taken into consideration before the trip was approved.   

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The students worked with individuals being treated at The Orthopedic Training Center in Nsawam, about 40 km from the capital city of Accra. The Center-- founded by Brother Tarcisius de Ruyter of the Divine Word Missionaries who died in January --opened in 1961. It is now run by Sister Elizabeth Newman, SSND. The Center’s website describes it as having three departments:  an orthopedic workshop, a mobile unit and a children’s department. The workshop, established in 1965 to create the orthopedic appliances needed for the physically challenged of Ghana, manufactures orthopedic shoes, shoe protheses, leg braces, artificial legs and arms, and splints for the over 6000 patients seen yearly. The Center also houses approximately 40 adults and 25 children.  All of the residents are adjusting to life as amputees.  

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Although English is a primary language in Ghana, there are many other tribal dialects commonly spoken by people in the community. Dr. Ott. says, “Students overcame the language barrier by using flip charts, with pictures, during their presentations.” 

The students share that overall, it was a successful way to get their message across. “We achieved more than we thought we would, considering the large cultural stigma that exists regarding disabilities in their community,” note Jacqueline and classmate Kaitlyn Karavage. 

“The stories people shared with us on an individualized basis were the most impactful,” say Lauren and Virginia who note that people with amputations have sobering challenges to overcome, are community outcasts and are often abandoned by their own relatives. As Lauren offers, “The stories shared with us in confidence will never be forgotten.”

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