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Nursing Students Learn In Ghanaian Healthcare Settings

To fulfill the clinical practicum for the public and global health nursing course, students in their third or fourth semester participate in one of ten sites. This experience provides a unique opportunity to put nursing skills into practice while being immersed in a different culture and healthcare system.
During the 2022 spring term, 12 students had the opportunity to travel to Ghana. For three weeks, they worked in hospitals, taught hygiene basics in elementary schools, and served local communities. Traveling from Accra (the capital of Ghana) to more rural areas in the north, BYU nursing students were impressed by a wide range of healthcare policies and cultures.

Ten days of the trip were spent learning from and working with Ensign Global College in Africa. This school aims to promote increased health in Ghanaian communities in the immediate and future. BYU nursing students worked on projects to further that goal, making a lasting impact on those they helped. Through the kindness of a nurse working at the college, students were given many opportunities to serve. They conducted blood pressure, blood glucose, and vision screenings within the community and taught first aid and hygiene to school children. Now a capstone student, Abby Stainton shared her thoughts on working with the organization: "It was impressive to see that what we were doing was sustainable. We didn’t just assess patients and tell them to see a doctor; Through the Ensign College nurse and her connections, we organized care and transportation for each individual.”

After working with Ensign College, students traveled to Accra, where they learned from the Korle-Bu teaching hospital nurses. Korle-Bu is one of the biggest hospitals in Ghana, with multiple buildings and 2000 patient beds. BYU nursing students gained hands-on experience as they worked with nurses and cared for patients in ICU, surgical, ER, and NICU units. Associate Teaching Professor Dr. Michael Thomas, who helped organize the group’s efforts, said it was a highlight for students as they watched nurses use evidence-based practice and focus on individual patients.

Allison Christenson, another BYU nursing student participating, shared an impactful experience she had in the hospital. While working in an ER, one of her patients had a stroke. While tracking blood pressure and giving fluids, Allison had a feeling the patient was going to die. She communicated her analysis to the nurse, and although they provided the best care they could, the patient died. This experience was challenging but impactful, as Allison was able to help comfort the patient’s family. She said, “Although it was super sad, I think it was a good experience for me because I was able to think critically through what was happening and advocate for the patient.” Each BYU nursing student had different opportunities to learn within the hospital and have experiences that will stay with them forever.

Dr. Thomas has been taking students to Ghana since 2017. When asked what his favorite part of the trip was, he shared his love for the people of Ghana and how they live their lives. In addition, he admires how they utilize resources effectively in and outside a healthcare system.

He shared a story about the man driving their group in Ghana. “The way he takes care of his van is incredible. Every time we are done, he cleans it out and double-checks everything. He’s very aware of anything potentially wrong, and if he hears something that doesn’t sound right, he will get it checked immediately. He has maintained this van far past what you would typically see in other settings because he greatly appreciates the car.” Dr. Thomas pointed out how often we might eat in our car or drive it despite warning lights. Sometimes we don’t appreciate the resources we have. This story is an excellent reminder of Thomas’s nursing career. He said, “As a healthcare provider, we have a lot of resources available, and I need to make sure that I’m using them as effectively as possible.”

The nursing students learned much from the people they interacted with throughout the practicum. Not only do Ghanaians care for their resources, but they are also extremely kind, welcoming, innovative, and family oriented. Many students commented on how the people went out of their way to care for each other. Allison reflected on her experience, saying, “My biggest takeaway from the experience was to listen and be kind. In addition, people there were interested in us and willing to share their knowledge.”

Abby shared her observation, saying, “They were living in the present. No one was ever on their cell phones, which is a huge difference from here because we constantly do things. In Ghana, people will just sit and be with you and talk, which is cool.”

The memories that BYU nursing students made while in Ghana last year were once in a lifetime. The upcoming Ghana session for 2023 will be very similar to last year’s trip, with many highlights. Dr. Thomas shared his excitement for the upcoming practicum and the agenda, including visiting Korle-Bu Hospital, working with the global health college, learning about rural healthcare in Abomoso, and other activities. BYU nursing students will continue to learn exceptional healthcare and life lessons in Ghana.