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Nursing Students Travel To Malawi To Develop Intercultural Competence As They Gain Hands-on Experience

In today’s clinic and hospital setting in Canada, the pace is fast and the focus is on technology.

So how do nursing colleges develop their students to foster understanding, empathy and the ability to provide culturally sensitive care?

“What really struck me when I went to Malawi was that nobody complained. And I met nurses who were caring for 100 patients,” she said.

Melodie has been bringing a select group of final year nursing students to Malawi every year since 2011. “It is a rite of passage for them. They are very young and often lack life experience. I want them to experience what it is to be a minority and I want them to develop an interest in who that person in the bed is.”

“I wasn’t taught how to tailor my care for someone from a different cultural background…we have an objective to graduate nurses who are culturally competent, but how do you do that?”

Participating students are required to provide 160 hours of clinical nursing, during their seven weeks abroad, to meet the course competencies and fulfill the requirements of their Nursing DEC.

They gain hands-on experience teaching and screening for illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS at St. Andrews Mission Hospital, a small rural hospital, and at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe, a more urban medical institution. They usually travel during the peak of malaria season when extra health personnel is most useful.

The students are guests of the Kamuzu College of Nursing at the University of Malawi where they attend classes. Nursing students from Kamuzu College of Nursing also attend Vanier College as the reciprocal part of this exchange.

When the students travel to Malawi, Melodie insists that they each bring a Humanitarian Medical Kit from Health Partners International of Canada. “This allows the students to have the tools to offer treatment that otherwise might not be available. It is also a way for the students to give something back in exchange for the valuable learning experiences,” she says.

A Malawian couple who are both doctors work for a partner organization called K2 Taso, funded by the Canadian K2 Foundation and also a partner of Health Partners International of Canada. Dr. Peter and Jacqueline Minjale act as local coordinators –and teachers- of the rural outreach care the Vanier student nurses provide.

HPIC provides shipments of bulk medicines to the Minjales and their team at K2. “These medicines may seem cheap to you. For us, they are both expensive and scarce. Even basic medicines, like painkillers, are not available at government facilities.”

K2 uses the medicine to provide treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS, for palliative care patients and for mobile clinics offered to remote villages.

HIV/AIDS has been devastating in Malawi. “It has claimed the lives of productive people: leaders, teachers, parents, workers,” he said.

However, there is much hope with the approach of many partners working together to address the HIV/AIDS crisis. Peter believes that they will reach the goal of preventing transmission from mother to child by 2030 to have an HIV/AIDS free generation. “Today there are 31 clinics for ARV (anti-retroviral therapy) care in our district. In 2007, there was only 1 and people would walk great distances to access the drugs available there.”

The HIV/AIDS prevalence in that corresponding period has dropped from 14.6% of the population to 8.7%.

While the numbers are trending down, there are still many people impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Peter showed a photo of a 16-month-old baby being cared for by his aunt. He is an HIV/AIDS orphan.

Out of the 3,883 patients in their care, 152 are teenagers and 403 are in elementary school. “Our mandate is to take care of them,” he says. And through the amazing work that his team does with limited resources, Peter and Jacquie and their team are making a lasting impression on the young Canadians.

Students at Vanier College are beginning to meet Melodie and planning the next trip to Malawi in March 2018.

Link to Vanier Nursing Malawi Exchange blog:

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