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Personal connections open doors in the West Indies

Sep 16, 2016
Guylaine Spencer

 Gloria Charles

Photo above: Gloria Charles, Clinical Faculty Member

McMaster nursing students interested in Global Health Professional Practice Placements during their last year of studies have two more destination choices this year. Clinical sites in two islands in the West Indies have just opened their doors to McMaster students. One student has just returned from St. Vincent and two more are currently in Grenada.

These new opportunities are available thanks in large part to the efforts of professor Gloria Charles, a Clinical Faculty member in the School of Nursing (SON) and member of the Global Health Education Committee (GHEC), with support from the SON at McMaster. Charles completed her registered nursing certificate in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), which is one of the two countries involved. The other country is Grenada. Coming to Canada, Charles completed her BScN at McMaster University and a Master of Education at Brock University. As her experience shows, creating new partnerships with international placement sites requires commitment, connections, support and time.

The seed of these new international partnerships was planted four years ago in 2012, when Charles was vacationing in Grenada with her brother, an Anglican minister, living at the rectory there, Charles explains. “It has a gorgeous view of the harbour and part of the city. A new laboratory/investigational building recently completed was pointed out to me along with other important buildings such as the hospital and parts of the university. I thought, gee, this would be such a rich experience for the students.” Charles then emailed Dr. Iris Mujica, chair of the Global Health Education Committee, about her idea. Mujica wrote back, saying, “You’re supposed to be on vacation! You’re thinking about students on vacation?” Charles replied, “My students are always in my mind.”

From that moment, Charles worked to make her dream a reality. “I had just four days in Grenada,” Charles recalls. “My brother, who is also the Superintendent for the Anglican school there, was aware of the network system and connected me with the Minister of Health. I met with her, then with the Dean of Nursing who invited me to a staff meeting, which included Community Nursing Supervisors for the clinics.” Things almost fell apart in Grenada when the dean of the school left but Mujica & Charles managed to rekindle the conversation later.

In 2014, while on vacation again, Charles met with the Senior Nursing Officer in SVG, the second new international partner. “My sister was previously one of the Senior Nursing Officers for Community Nursing in St. Vincent & the Grenadines (SVG) and she provided me a contact there. As nursing is under the community college umbrella, it was important to meet with this person prior to contacting the Dean of nursing. Because of my background as a graduate of SVG and my sister’s previous position, the networking was in place for me. In the Islands, you have to go through the proper channels.”

Kirsten and colleagues

PHOTO ABOVE: Student Kristin Ducut (centre) and her colleagues Staff Nurse John (left) and Ms Wyllie (right) at Calliaqua Health Center in St. Vincent

This summer, Charles supervised the first student to SVG. Kristin Ducut spent three months completing her first level 4 professional practice placement in SVG. “I wanted to go to a country where I’d never been before, to get out of my comfort zone,” says Ducut. During her placement, she did “a lot of primary health care strategies, vaccinations, tetanus shots, etc. I did postnatal and antenatal care, wound dressings and registering patients.” She noticed that “the nurses there were very independent. They were the leaders in the clinic. Since there weren’t a lot of doctors available every day at the clinic, sometimes they would have to make decisions themselves.” There were similarities between the Canadian and St. Vincent systems too. “Nurses provided the usual nursing care, health care assessments, patient education and worked with a health care team. Nurses still do have to follow the physicians’ orders when there’s a physician there.”

Ducut gained both professional and personal experiences in St. Vincent. “I think what surprised me was getting close to the people there. I never expected to be close to them because their culture is very different from mine and communication was very hard. At first, I couldn’t understand their accents. Later on, I did become friends with them and I still keep in touch with the nurses and the nursing students I worked with.”

Since 1984, more than 240 nursing students at McMaster SON have seized the opportunity to do their clinical placements in more than 25 countries worldwide, as well as remote locations in Canada’s north. For more information, visit Global Health Professional Practice Placements

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