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Jul
02

Going Global: The Long and Winding (Ghanaian) Road

Last week I started a new series designed to open our minds to nursing and health care across borders and cultures. Going Global really began 10 years ago, when I studied abroad in Ghana, fell in love with the country, and decided to go back after I graduated college.

Visiting Kwame Nkrumah Memorial.

Luckily Davidson had an incredible program that awarded graduating seniors grants to travel the world for a year and explore their sense of vocation. (Yes, really.)

Busua Beach. One of my favorite getaways.

I decided to use my grant to volunteer in Ghanaian health care settings, while observing the role of religious faith in healing. My first four months were spent at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, where I shadowed their chaplain, had my own fragile faith challenged and uprooted, and felt somewhat helpless in the midst of multiple barriers between myself and the patients I visited.

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I also felt helpless because I saw pain, despair, and need and wanted to have the skills to step in and help on a more tangible, physical level. One of my flatmates in Accra was a nurse from the UK, and we would walk to and from the hospital every day discussing the condition of the hospital, the crowded facilities, and the disparities between Korle Bu and our hospitals back home. The difference between her and me was that she was rolling up her sleeves and doing something about it.

The “omelette lady” – our go-to meal source near our flat in Mamprobi. Expressions of faith were everywhere in Ghana.

This is not to disparage chaplains or pastoral care. Reverend Nana taught me much about patience, and connection, and the gift of presence. These are lessons I still use on a daily basis as a nurse. But at the end of the day, I still felt handcuffed by my inability to step in and be part of a more immediate solution.

Morning in Elmina.

I felt most useful and most myself when I would visit my flatmate on the pediatric wards and help her cuddle the children who had either been orphaned or abandoned by their families. We both fell in love with a tiny newborn who had contracted HIV at birth and had been left on hospital grounds by a mother fearful of being outcast from their village (Ghana’s version of “Safe Surrender,” I suppose). We went to the “fevers” unit apart from the main building, where the kiddos with AIDS and TB were quarantined, and sang with them. I held the children while my friend did minor procedures or fed them. I was active and involved. And I loved every minute of it. It’s why I believed that if I did go into health care, I would want to do pediatrics.

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Then I moved to a family planning clinic for the remainder of my year. I’d volunteered there as a student and they were glad to have me back. But again, they weren’t really sure what to do with me for a longer period of time. I wasn’t a provider, so sitting in on appointments for eight months was a waste of everyone’s time. I ended up helping them improve their medical records system – my first foray into nursing informatics. I know it helped. But I really wanted to be in that back room, taking vital signs, and providing education and helping women recover from procedures.

The family planning clinic where I was stationed.

The road didn’t veer there, however. I already had a scholarship to attend seminary for a year and challenge myself to thinking about my future as a vocation.

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And in the midst of my year, I met with my ordination guide, who also happened to be my pastor from college. And we talked about my experiences in Ghana. I felt that I had already made my bed and should lie in it. I thought that it was “too late” to “start over” (my 30-something self giggles at the thought now). And my mentor posed the question I had been avoiding for months: Why not nursing?

Why not, indeed.

And so I finished my seminary year with a decision made: I would take a leave of absence, enroll in nursing prerequisites and see what happened.

You know the rest. 🙂

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