Sixteen checked suitcases each filled with 50 pounds of medical supplies made the journey to the African nation of Tanzania.
Inside them surgical gloves, IV equipment, heart monitors and more. All much needed equipment for a developing country in terms of their health care system.
“Tanzania’s main focus—they realized that they are way down in the world as far as their health care, “ said Dr. Sallie Coke, associate professor of nursing. “Their main problem is maternal death and newborn child death. They have started training every single registered nurse, who is also bachelor’s prepared just like here, as a midwife as well.”
The nurses there have the training, but lack basic medical supplies.
“They don’t have a NICU (neonatal intensive care unit),” said Ritesh Patel, who graduates May 2017 with his Master of Nursing degree. “They have one bed and one oxygen tank. That’s things that we don’t even think about here.”
When Georgia College’s School of Nursing decide to partner with the Maternal and Midwifery Services of the City of Arusha, they asked the nurses there to provide a wish list of items they needed.
That request came not in an email, but a handwritten list of items they would like to have to provide better care. At the bottom was written “We humbly and thankfully request these medical supplies.”
That lit a fire in the students. Knowing they had a chance to really make a difference, the students collected nearly $20,000 worth of supplies to donate to the hospitals they worked with.
“I think they were in shock by the quantity of it all. They were not expecting it to be as much as it was,” said Tara Butts, who graduates May 2017 with her Master of Nursing degree. “It’s just so sincere to me that they don’t expect this from us, but they were so grateful.”
Even with the supplies they donated, students still found it challenging to provide care.
“I think we all realized that the medical personnel knew exactly what they needed to do in order to provide the best medical care possible, but they just don’t have the resources to provide that care,” said Butts. “They are so resourceful with what they do have, but you can’t help but wonder how health outcomes would change if they had the same resources we do in America.”
Compared to the five per 1,000 infant deaths in the U.S. in 2016, Tanzania faced 41 deaths per 1,000 births. That’s according to the CIA World Factbook.
“I realized how fortunate we are to have all this equipment, and that we are able to use the resources we have to provide care for the people that are here,” said Patel.
Led by Coke and Dr. Debby MacMillan, associate professor of nursing, undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students worked alongside each other allowing the veteran nurses to also become teachers.
“I’m really glad that we had all levels of students. When our new graduates encountered something, they at least had a pro right there behind them that could help,” said Coke.
The hands on learning gave students the opportunity to growth both professionally and personally.
“It was an amazing opportunity for the students to work with the professionals at the hospital,” said Coke. “There were some difficulties especially realizing that basic things like working oxygen and blood pressure cuffs— things we take for basic requirements— are not readily available in their hospitals.”
Aside from working in the hospitals the group took a safari, hiked and experienced the Tanzanian way of life.
“This study abroad experience has helped prepare me for my future career because it has made me so much more culturally aware,” said senior nursing major Olivia Melvin. “The profession of nursing naturally exposes you to so many different people, cultures and ways of life, and I think my experience in Tanzania has helped me think in more global terms as opposed to ‘what is different from the American way of life.’”
The students set out on the trip to make a difference in the lives of the people in Tanzania. They did that, but in the end they took away more than what they were able to give—a “life changing” experience.
“Professionally it has made me realize the importance of basic assessment skills and how much we take for granted as providers in the U.S. We rely so much on our diagnostic capabilities that we forget the fundamentals of medical care,” said Butts. “Personally, it makes me want to drop everything and move my family to Tanzania in hopes that I could make a small impact in some way. You can’t even imagine the need that is there. Having two daughters makes me so thankful that they grow up in a place where they can go to school and get an education. It breaks my heart that not all women of the world have that same opportunity.”