Our Summer Program students are heading back to class after experiencing a worldview of healthcare systems in Tanzania, Thailand and the Gambia. Over the next few weeks, we will share a three part series including photo essays and a story documented by our students during their 2012 electives.
Story submitted by Katie Van Patter – Dalhousie School of Nursing
Having just completed my third year of nursing school, I knew there were a lot of elements that I loved about nursing. I like connecting with people, I like to learn, and I love a challenge. Nursing provides me with all of this but one of the biggest allures about nursing to me is how transferable it is. No matter where you are, people always want to maintain their health and will therefore always need nurses. Travelling is a passion of mine so when an opportunity came up to travel with the Dalhousie Global Health Office and The Nova Scotia Gambia Association to The Gambia as a summer intern, I knew this was an opportunity I could not pass up. Upon being selected to go on this adventure, I participated in four pre-departure sessions to help orient me for the trip; but nothing quite prepares you like actually living it!
While in The Gambia, I spent two and a half weeks travelling around the country teaching in four different schools about water safety, conservation, and scarcity. The passion for learning that the students had in addition to their always warm and inviting attitude made me feel instantly appreciative and grateful to be there. I was there to teach them about water but they taught me so much more. I saw first-hand how strong, smart, and truly happy these students were. Some of these students had barely enough money to stay in school each year and most could not afford to buy new uniforms to replace their currents ones which had just one button on their shirt or were too short in the arms and legs but they would share everything that they did have with one another and with me. I was consistently blown away by their hospitality and their truly kind spirits. The Gambia is known as the Smiling Coast of Africa and I can see why. Never have I found everyone in a country to be so happy, friendly, and welcoming.
I also spent a week doing some nursing work in the psychiatric facility. It was such an eye opening week. I was fortunate enough to see many different elements of their mental health care model. I spent a day in admissions with the nurses, a day in occupational therapy, a day doing patient assessments with the doctor, and a day working in their community outpatient clinic. I was amazed by how much the health care team could accomplish with so few resources. I learned that people with epilepsy are sent to the psychiatric hospital for treatment because there are no neurologists and anti-seizure medications are too expensive to bring into the country and so psychiatry is the closest link to treatment.
I spent just four weeks in The Gambia but they have changed me for a lifetime. I will continue volunteering at the Nova Scotia Gambia Association in Halifax and I plan to return to The Gambia to provide more support where I can. I am also hopeful to complete an independent study project through the nursing department particularly around patients with epilepsy in The Gambia. The options are limitless for me and would be for any nursing student hoping to be involved in something similar. It feels almost impossible to describe my experience on paper. This adventure was by far the most rewarding experience of my life. If you have ever thought about doing something like this, stop thinking and DO IT! It just might change your life!