John Shiffert: Clayton State Student Nurses Take Haiti “by Storm”

Clayton State Student Nurses
Take Haiti “by Storm”

According to a member of the La Gonave Haiti Partnership, Clayton State University student nurses took Haiti by storm during their recent study abroad trip to the Caribbean nation.

“These women took the island by storm. There is no way to say how much the people of La Gonave appreciated their professionalism, their warm and open spirit and their skills,” says Deborah Griffin, a board member of the La Gonave Haiti Partnership who travelled with the Clayton State party as a volunteer guide. “They have truly made friends for life.”

Led by Clayton State nursing professors Dr. Jennell Charles and Lynn Stover, nine Clayton State nursing students visited the Haitian island of La Gonave, serving the La Gonave Haiti Partnership in the Bill Rice Clinic and Wesleyan Hospital in an experience that encompassed experiential learning, cultural immersion, and international community service. The La Gonave Haiti Partnership is a “ministry of presence” and a community development partnership between the people of La Gonave, Haiti, the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti and the United States.

Making the study abroad trip along with Charles (who is also a board member of the La Gonave Haiti Partnership) and Stover were; Shekita Redding, Shelita West, Karen Massiah, Kasandra Jackson, Rufina Greene, Vanessa Newton-Pulley, Colleen Walters, Mojisola Bakare, and Monique Murray. All of the students involved were RN students returning for their BSN, and/or their MSN, except for Walters. A graduate student from Hampton, Ga., who received the University System of Georgia’s Chancellor’s Award in 2012, Walters is also a graduate of the Clayton State BSN program who is now a clinical instructor in that same program, and a staff nurse at Southern Regional Hospital.

“After the whole group toured the old and new hospital at the Wesleyan compound and met with the head of nursing, Marie Cattle, it was decided that the nurses would divide up, half going up to Bill Rice Clinic and the other half going to Wesleyan Hospital to attend clinics and round with the docs,” explains Griffin. “Over the course of the week these nurses learned, trained others and perhaps the most positive aspect, they taught the staff at both places to make use of things they already had on hand to work towards better diagnostic outcomes.

“They never lost their spirit or compassion. Even after the day was over they were willing to sit and brainstorm about what was needed to make things better. Simple things… practical suggestions… the kind of things we need to address first if we are to build a sustainable system in Haiti.”

Walters notes that, while working closely with Griffin to assess the healthcare needs of the population, their goal, “was not to impose or rescue, but to develop relationships and trust through which we could help to meet the needs of the community of La Gonave, long term.”

Griffin agrees that the Clayton State nurses’ efforts made a huge impression.

“Having been with many medical teams I can tell you I have never seen a team so welcomed by the people of La Gonave,” she says. “There was a sense of pride at having professionals from the U.S., people who looked like them, in the trenches and doing the work together. These nurses accomplished things that would be difficult for many others.”

It was also, according to another student nurse, a life-changing experience.

“(The trip) was one of the most challenging and life-changing experiences of my nursing career,” says Massiah.

“It is an opportunity that should be experienced by every nurse because of the culturally diverse experience and in-depth knowledge gained while interacting with nursing colleagues in a healthcare system that is different from your own.”

Among the accomplishments of the Clayton State students was determining priorities with the goals of achieving sustained improved health outcomes. Walters notes that the Clayton State team provided supplies, staff training and empowerment. Among the supplies were custom made midwifery kits, medications, wound care supplies, and rehydration salts.

“Several of us focused on the hospital, while the others spent time at the clinic connecting with staff, caring for patients, cleaning and organizing, and providing clinical training,” she says. “A personal highlight of the experience (for me) was the interaction with the lay midwives during training in which the midwives, who were not literate, shared a song in Creole that accurately outlined the steps to proper hand washing.”

Massiah notes that her highlights of the trip “included teaching the doctors and nurses at Wesleyan Hospital about critical illnesses, implementing timely treatment plans for complex life threatening illnesses and diseases, empowering and teaching nursing colleagues about critical illnesses and simultaneously learning new approaches to implement patient care in a healthcare system with limited access to new technological healthcare resources.”

While Massiah’s experiences were unquestionably rewarding, and, she hopefully re-emphasizes, educational to all the healthcare professionals involved, the outcomes of those experiences were not always the desired ones.

“I will always remember one patient who died from septic shock during my rotation at Wesleyan Hospital because the physician orders for intravenous fluid and antibiotics were not administered in a timely manner,” she recalls. “Even though her death could have been prevented, I am confident that my teachings regarding septic shock will remain invaluable in saving the lives of many patients at Wesleyan Hospital.”

Even so, there is more to be done.

“Although we accomplished a lot in the nine days we were in Haiti, much more needs to be done and the Clayton State School of Nursing is committed to continue to offer this invaluable experience to nursing students,” promises Walters.

For more information on The La Gonave Haiti Partnership , go to www.lagonavepartners.org.