A desire to learn about other cultures, expand my nursing practice, and become less ethnocentric is what drew me to the Ghana study abroad experience. This trip taught me to appreciate cultural differences and will help me to become a more compassionate nurse.
Our days consisted of city tours, presentations by Webster University faculty, and visiting hospitals and other facilities to learn about patient care and cultural differences. A day with Willows International Foundation focused on talking with Ghanaian women who received family planning assistance. Each day concluded with a debriefing session: talking about our feelings, reactions, thoughts, what we expected or didn’t expect, and how those expectations were met.
Healthcare was different at each facility. Private hospitals were similar to the United States. They had electronic charting and MRI machines. Labs were drawn on every patient who came into the ER.
Public hospitals, however, were very different. While the nurses were beyond capable of providing quality care, they needed more resources and a larger staff. The nurse-to-patient ratio was roughly 1 nurse per 30 patients. Patients with severe wounds, which were not properly dressed or treated, were lying on the floor. Nurses worked hard under the circumstances, but were unable to acquire all the resources necessary to treat patients in a timely and efficient manner. The sight frustrated me, but the nurses working remained calm.
In Ghana, they are not nearly as concerned about charting as the United States. This allowed the nurses to provide therapeutic care and spend more time with patients without having to make sure everything was documented. They had more autonomy to make decisions about patient care.
A visit to the Elmina Slave Castles was one of the most important experience for me. Our guide was very informative and made the trip more than a history lesson. He took us into the dungeons, shutting us in to show the conditions in which the slaves were kept. While he told stories of their treatment, he was sorrowful, but also forgiving. Our guide wanted us to follow the journey of the slaves, so we entered the room where the Door of No Return was located. As a group we sang Amazing Grace, afterwards, promised in unison to never allow tragedy to occur. This experience will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Throughout the tour I experiencing much anger towards my ancestors. Our guide however, refused to allow us to say a bad word about those people, wanting to remain dignified and respectful. He showed no anger, just compassion, and wanted us to learn, experience, and share these stories with the world. Everyone should have the eye-opening experience of visiting these slave castles and learning this history firsthand.
This trip allowed me to experience another culture, be respectful, and celebrate their differences. People need to understand that just because something is different, that does not make it better or worse. As a student, I am grateful for easy access to resources. There are people with far less who refuse to use that as an excuse. Instead, they work harder, learn more, and are better students and better nurses for it. They value education and career. I want to be aware of the opportunities I am given.
Moving forward, I will look at different nursing practices and healthcare modalities with new respect. If a patient refuses care, for example, on the grounds of culture, I will not be so quick to judge or attempt to change their attitude. I will listen empathetically to understand. I want to provide culturally sensitive care organized around my patient’s specific needs.
I was surprised to see how others treated me. I was prepared to be treated poorly and experience the plight others face. But everyone in Ghana was warm and respectful to us. I had an earnest conversation with one nurse who share her experience when a white male came to her ER, demanding to be treated by a white doctor. She was not bitter or hateful, rather sorrowful and genuinely confused as to how skin color could determine character as this gentleman thought. A white doctor was found, staying for days to ensure the man received quality care. Ghanaians believe everyone should be treated with kindness and respect. A humbling story.
I want to exhibit similar characteristics in my everyday life and nursing practice. Not only by refusing to act differently towards someone because of culture or skin color, but by being aware of my reactions to unfavorable circumstances. I want to be kind and respectful to others. I can make a difference and possibly change preconceived notions others hold. This is an essential aspect of good nursing care.
Meeting new people and making connections during a study abroad experience is a great way for students to expand their nursing practice. Learning about other cultures makes us better nurses. Be aware of how your actions are perceived by others and how easy it is to make a difference with small changes. Get out of the space you inhabit and grow. Open yourself up to learn more than you thought possible. Ghana is an experience that will continue to change you even after you are home.