DCCC Nursing Student, Faculty Member Travel to Ghana

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July 21, 2014 – A Davidson County Community College student and faculty member recently returned from a 10-day trip to Ghana, where they laid the groundwork for future study abroad opportunities for students in the college’s nursing program.

Faculty member Elizabeth Weeks and second-year nursing student Susan Thornton visited hospitals, orphanages, a rehabilitation center and a prenatal clinic in Kumasi, Ghana. Hosted by Premier Nurses Training College, they spent their time connecting with nursing faculty and students and observing their working conditions and practices.

Their primary mission: finding out how DCCC can develop a sustained study abroad program for nursing students in Ghana or another African country.

“There’s definitely a lot for nursing students to learn in Ghana,” Weeks says. “There are great opportunities for students to see how other cultures practice healing and deal with illness.”

Weeks says she was most interested in seeing how medical care is conducted outside the U.S., especially in conditions so different from where she and her students are accustomed to working. The hospitals they visited did not have air conditioning or running water.

Ghana 2“Walking into the hospitals is like going back in time,” says Thornton. “Their systems are not computerized – everything is analog. There are no IV pumps, for example. Their equipment is very basic, but the nurses are up-to-date in their education and practice. They just lack the finances to have the type of resources we have in the U.S., where we have access to cutting-edge medical care.”

Many of the facilities they visited treat patients who have walked for miles to get medical care. They observed nurses treating malaria, intestinal illness and AIDS. They also witnessed some of the customs and beliefs that keep people who live in remote villages from seeking medical care. For instance, mortality rates are high among women giving birth to babies at home rather than in a hospital.

Weeks was asked to give a lecture about maternity nursing in the U.S. during the trip. She also brought new copies of a nursing textbook to share with the school since students do not have access to updated texts.

“It changes you to go to a country like that,” she says. “It makes you realize how fortunate our nursing students are to receive the type of education they are getting and have access to all they are learning.”

For both Weeks and Thornton, the experience gave them new perspective about their profession, which they hope to share with their classmates at DCCC and through future study abroad trips.

“I saw that nursing is universal,” Weeks said. “The nurses I met in Ghana were just like the nurses I’ve known for years. We have the same standards of professionalism. What was first started by Florence Nightingale exists in Ghana as it does in the U.S. It was very nice to see that nursing is a universal profession.”

Thornton, who will graduate with her associate degree in nursing in May 2015, says the trip affected the direction she plans to take in her career and that she may consider a community health role, treating or educating underserved populations.

“I have no words to express all the things I took away from Ghana,” she says. “You think you have a perception about what a place will be like, and then you step into it and your world expands exponentially. It’s opened my eyes and softened me up to working with those less fortunate than me. There are people in our own back yard who aren’t getting the health care they need.”Ghana 3

A scholarship from the Briggs Foundation, which provides funding to students in DCCC’s nursing program, supported Thornton’s travel costs for the trip, which was one of five study abroad trips to five different continents DCCC organized this summer.

By 2020, DCCC has pledged to double the number of students studying abroad as part of the Generation Study Abroad initiative of the Institute of International Education. To help more students go, DCCC has also launched a study abroad committee to develop uniform policies and procedures, a smooth application process and awareness of opportunities for all students.

Study abroad is just one of a variety of ways DCCC students can earn a global education. The Scholars for Global Distinction program, the first of its kind in the state, includes a study abroad or domestic intercultural experience as well as the chance for students to enroll in globally intensive courses, such as foreign language, world civilizations and geography, international cultural exploration, business and more. Students also attend international Passport Events on campus, which provide students with several opportunities throughout the year to learn about different countries and cultures through unique events and presentations.

This summer, DCCC students and faculty are also taking study abroad trips to China, Peru, Spain and Australia/New Zealand.

Editor’s Note: In the first photo, DCCC nursing student Susan Thornton and faculty member Elizabeth Weeks are pictured in front of one of the hospitals they visited in Kumasi, Ghana. In the second photo, Thornton holds a child at an orphanage they visited. The third photo shows Thornton and Weeks wearing handmade school uniforms at the Premier Nurses Training College.

Founded in 1963, Davidson County Community College is noted for its quality educational programs and services. As one of 58 institutions within the North Carolina Community College System, DCCC offers studies in more than 50 degree programs. A fully-accredited, multi-campus college, DCCC celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013 and is looking forward to serving students in Davidson and Davie counties for many years to come. The college is committed to developing minds, inspiring imaginations and preparing students for enhanced career and educational opportunities within a changing global environment. Visit Davidson County Community College at davidsonccc.edu.