Bridging experiences

Christina MacDonald has cleaned hurricane-ravaged streets in Honduras, taught English to Ethiopian children and delivered food to disadvantaged seniors in her hometown of Fort Smith, N.W.T.

The fourth-year University of Lethbridge nursing student isn't short on ambition and her interests are many. Globe-trotting and volunteering are major themes in her life, as is conservation. An avid camper and outdoorswoman, MacDonald spends her summers at Wood Buffalo National Park, teaching visitors about the area's spectacular geological wonders, flora and fauna.

This January, MacDonald began her biggest adventure yet: a three-month practicum in Kampala, Uganda. She and fellow student Andrea Fandrich will be the first U of L undergraduate nursing students to complete their final practicum overseas.

MacDonald got a taste of international work after volunteering for SOS Children's Villages in Ethiopia after completing high school at the prestigious Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific in Victoria, B.C. While MacDonald had long hoped to complete her senior U of L nursing clinical experience internationally, she didn't realize it was a possibility until she began swapping stories with one of her professors, Dr. Jean Harrowing. Harrowing had done her master's thesis research in Uganda and still had connections in the capital city of Kampala.

Both Harrowing and MacDonald recognized this as the perfect opportunity for MacDonald to travel overseas and for the U of L to continue building a rapport with the Ugandan nursing community. Harrowing volunteered to be MacDonald's faculty advisor and put her in touch with the assistant nursing director at Mulago Hospital, the largest hospital in Kampala. Prior to leaving, MacDonald held high hopes for the experience.

"From what I've heard, the nurses there are so amazing and work so hard. I'm looking forward to being a part of that team and learning from them," says MacDonald.

It wasn't set in stone what MacDonald would do after she arrived in January, but mentoring first- and second-year nursing students from the nearby university was one possibility.

"We're going into this very open-minded, keeping in mind the fact that we'll have to be flexible," she says.

MacDonald recognized that living and working in Uganda would be very different from anything she's ever experienced. With inconsistent Internet access, it would be a struggle to communicate with her professors, family and friends at the U of L. She also anticipated that it would be a challenge to adjust to a clinical environment that may not have the same technologies as a typical Canadian hospital.

With this in mind, MacDonald and Fandrich stuffed their suitcases with a large cache of medical equipment both to use on their trip and to leave behind for the nurses at the hospital when they head home. For several months, the girls invited students and faculty at the U of L to donate stethoscopes, gloves, blood-pressure cuffs and other medical tools for the students to take on their travels.

"It's our hope that we can create a bit of a bridge between Lethbridge and Kampala, and facilitate nurses in Canada supporting nurses in Uganda in their practice," says MacDonald.

But while confident she'll make a contribution to the hospital, MacDonald thinks she has more to gain from the experienced nurses she'll be working with.

"I'm aware going into this it's likely I'll take away more than I'm able to give."

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