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FCN Seniors and Faculty Spend Spring Break in Ghana

The team of student nurses model traditional Ghanian shoulder bags and skirts: (L to R) Tori Creighton, Annarose Bernardo, Audrey Jaros, Maeve Morris, Theresa McGannon.

A group of five Nursing students, two faculty and one staff member immersed themselves in an international learning and service experience during spring break, traveling to Nsawam, Ghana, March 1-10 and bringing with them a collection of donated toothbrushes, toothpastes, hand soaps and other health-related travel-sized toiletries that are not easily available in Ghana.

The students, who are seniors in the Practicum in Health Promotion and Home Health, earned hours toward their health promotion clinicals during the trip, but more than that, they gained knowledge and firsthand learning of health care practices, disparities and creative solutions that will become a foundational part of their Nursing careers.

“It is a life-changing experience,” said Associate Professor Tracy Oliver, PhD, RDN, LDN, who has participated in the Ghana spring break trip three times. “Students grow in ways that cannot be described.”


Audrey Jaros and Tori Creighton teach healthy habits at the OTC Children's School.

The Ghana program has continued for many years an ongoing relationship with the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who run the sites students visited and informed them of pressing health education issues in advance. This year’s trip was the first since 2020 because of the pandemic.

“We work alongside the sisters who run both sites and they are very willing to help the students to learn and prepare for these experiences,” said Dr. Oliver.

To prepare for their work, the FCN group first met in December and then regularly throughout the semester leading up to their departure. Students researched Ghana’s health care systems, culture, food, government, history, politics and economy as well as best practices to develop an understanding of the culture. They selected health topics to teach in Nsawam and shared their findings with each other, receiving feedback to create lesson plans, handouts and other health education materials.

Most of the students’ time was spent at Nsawam’s Orthopedic Training Center (OTC), which primarily treats children with birth deformities.


They conducted health education and health promotion activities with the boys and girls staying at the OTC Children's Home, teaching them healthy habits such as good hygiene, hand washing, teeth brushing and nutrition. Their efforts supported the Children’s Home’s mission to provide a family environment for children who are beginning therapy and learning how to use orthopedic appliances that the OTC had assisted in securing for them.

“My best memories of the trip came from spending time with the kids at the OTC,” said student Theresa McGannon. “Every day, we were greeted with cheering and hugs. These kids, who have been through so much in their young lives, are some of the happiest people I’ve ever met and have become a big inspiration to me. Although I miss them dearly, having stories of them reminds me of the joy they have brought into my life.”

The OTC also serves adults and older patients who may have delayed treatment for issues that stem from their youth or are suffering from injuries sustained in industrial accidents. The students provided health education to adult amputees, many of whom were also living with diabetes or other chronic diseases, instructing them in healthy eating, diabetes management, hypertension, wound care and wound dressing.

Not far from OTC, the students spent time at the Notre Dame Clinic, which provides health services and a maternity department for people living in the villages around Nsawam. Students assisted midwives in births, worked alongside the physician assistants during health care visits and assessments, and offered health education for patients on a range of health promotion topics including pregnancy and malaria, iron deficiency and pregnancy, hypertension, breastfeeding recommendations for women with HIV.


Annarose Bernardo leads the way across a suspension bridge at Kakum National Park.

To round out their Ghanian experience, the group did make some time for sightseeing. They visited the historical El Mina Castle, which marks the location of the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade, and toured through Kakum National Park and its famous suspension bridges.  

“This experience opened my eyes to how life altering nursing trips can be,” said McGannon. “I plan to seek out many more opportunities like this in the future and am going to do everything I can to return to the OTC in Ghana sometime soon. I am so excited for the next few years of seniors to experience the magic of the OTC and the happiness that it brings!”