Taking Up the Challenge

The School of Nursing’s work in countries such as Honduras and Zambia inspires students and faculty. In Zambia, for example, the SON is trying to enhance nursing opportunities through targeted educational programs, says Doreen Harper, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., the school’s dean and director of UAB’s Pan-American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Center for International Nursing (PAHO/WHO Collaborating Center).

The SON’s partnerships in Honduras have been dealt a setback by the country’s ongoing political instability; faculty members Karen Saenz, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.S.N., C.P.N.P., and Lygia Holcomb, D.S.N., C.R.N.P., had to cancel a trip there with students earlier this summer. However, Saenz expresses confidence that the bonds SON faculty have built with their counterparts in Honduras have grown strong enough to weather any temporary disruptions. “We’re planning on having some of those faculty come here this year—I think we’ve gone to Honduras enough, and kept in close enough contact with them, that the political situation isn’t going to make a big, long-term impact on what we’re doing,” she says.
One approach to enhance global nursing capacity and leadership is an international nursing leadership program that is sponsored by the PAHO/WHO Collaborating Center every other year.  In January 2008, 18 nurses from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Honduras participated in the three-week program in Birmingham. During the program, nurses lived with volunteer host families, participated in a class on global leadership, studied English at the UAB English Language and Culture Institute, and developed projects to improve health in their host countries, all in collaboration with UAB faculty.

“It has been wonderful to see those nurses come to Birmingham,” Saenz adds. “Many of them had never had passports before; some of them had never even left their area of the country. So it was such an amazing opportunity for them to come and see what a university hospital is like. We’re trying to integrate them into research, scholarship, and teaching, trying to raise their perception of what a nurse is and can be. Often they only think of a nurse as standing at a bedside or treating individual people in a certain area, but we’re trying to show them, ‘No, you can do more. You can set up entire shelters; you can influence political changes and make a difference in a community.’ And I think they’re starting to get that idea now.”

“We have a network now that involves nurses from many different countries,” Saenz says. “The Chileans can talk with the Hondurans, and the Hondurans can talk with the Brazilians—it’s not just us giving out the information. Their situations have a lot of similarities, and they have to be able to solve those problems by collaborating with others in the region. By partnering, we collaborate on problems that our counterparts in Latin America are able to help us with as well.”

In July 2010 the International Nursing Leadership Program will be open to a total of 15 Latin American countries, and it also will include a cohort of 10 nurses from Zambia.  For further information about this program, or about serving as a host family for one of the nurses, contact Lynda Wilson at (205) 934-6787 or lyndawilson@uab.edu

Holcomb describes the Latin American nurses they’ve worked with as “cultural experts” in their own right. “Sometimes when we suggest things that we’d like to come and do, they say, ‘No, that’s not going to be important here. Let’s don’t focus on obesity in children—let’s get people food first.’ At the same time, it’s interesting to see cultures collaborate and share so many common experiences. They’re interested in wellness and health care, and they’re learning, just like we are. Together, we’re making a difference.”
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