Centre for Nursing Studies Broadens its Borders


Four nursing students of Ixcán, Guatemala have their picture taken after class.

Four nursing students of Ixcán, Guatemala have their picture taken after class.

In 2000 when the nursing professionals of the Centre for Nursing Studies (CNS) took their first flight overseas to Managua, Nicaragua, they had no idea of the impact they would have on nursing around the world.

As one of Canada’s leading institutions in nursing education, Eastern Health’s CNS has partnered with various developing countries across the globe to educate others and achieve national health standards. The international division – or CNSi – is focused on delivering excellent and relevant nursing education to students at home and abroad. The CNS offers a wide variety of nursing programs around the world, catering to the needs of each individual country. Since its inception 14 years ago, the CNS has had measurable impacts on various developing countries like Nicaragua, Guatemala, Jamaica, and Paraguay.

“It is amazing to see the results,” said Sharon Fitzgerald, nursing educator. “The program the CNS started in a remote region of Guatemala is now the national nursing program for the country.”

“Our ultimate goal is to work together with these developing countries, to provide them with the skills that they need to improve health care in their communities,” said Wanda Wadman, coordinator of CNSi.

The Centre’s first project was in Managua, Nicaragua.

“The team was so excited to be embarking on their first international initiative,” said Wanda. “Everyone hoped that it would be the start of many opportunities to contribute to nursing education abroad.”

With an army of support back in Newfoundland, Wanda and many of her colleagues worked diligently with various educators in Nicaragua and Guatemala providing them with the information and tools they needed to educate others.

The efforts of the CNSi certainly paid off.

A nursing student from Coban, Guatemala engages in her studies.

A nursing student from Coban, Guatemala engages in her studies.

The project that started in Nicaragua eventually led to CIDA-funded projects (now Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade) for Nicaragua, Guatemala and Paraguay, designed to “improve access to primary health care nursing services in rural and remote communities, and to contribute to a Health Human Resource regulatory environment which recognizes the role of primary health care nursing.”

A big part of these projects involved the introduction of distance education. Sharon Fitzgerald was one of the many nurses who made the projects in Central and South America possible.

“At first the people in these communities were very sceptical about distance education,” said Sharon. “They didn’t understand how it was possible to learn this way.”

Erika Fetzer Leal, a teacher at Coban Nursing School, Guatemala, prepares for class.

Erika Fetzer Leal, a teacher at Coban Nursing School, Guatemala, prepares for class.

However, it didn’t take long to convince our Southern colleagues how powerful distance education could truly be.

Isabel Lobos is one of the many individuals who has been affected by the CNSi’s projects. A nursing educator and now the director of the Asociacion Tula Salud – a Guatemalan NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) that aims to improve health services for the rural population.

Isabel has been able to share with others the valuable information she has learned from our nursing educators.

Although Isabel admits there were some moments of uncertainty during her first days of teaching and the introduction of distance learning, she quickly began to realize how capable and eager to learn her students were.

“We thought that maybe they wouldn’t adapt to the technology,” said Isabel. “However, that wasn’t the case. They were fully capable and only needed the opportunity to develop and contribute to the health care of rural communities.”

With many hopes for the future, Isabel is forever grateful for the work done by the CNS. “This has been a very interesting and enriching experience,” she said. “I feel so fortunate to be part of this initiative, and I thank the Centre for Nursing Studies for working in my country.”

While the Centre has gained national and international recognition for its work in developing countries, the team measures its success by the impact their programs are having.

A group of Guatemalan student participate in a team building exercise.

A group of Guatemalan students participate in a team building exercise.

“Since the implementation of the nursing programs, we have actually seen a reduction in the rates of child mortality in Central America,” said CNS nursing educator Dawn Lanphear. “The commitment of the nursing educators is just amazing. Although they have so much less than us in Canada, they seem so rich.”

Since the completion of these projects, the CNS has been approached by other developing countries to consult on similar issues and has even brokered its practical nursing program in Jamaica.

“It’s the type of work that recharges your batteries and reminds you of why you came into this profession,” said Dawn.

The work done by the CNS spreads Eastern Health’s borders far and wide throughout the world, and exemplifies our “together, we can” mindset. As Sharon describes it, “nursing is like one big family throughout the world.”

The Millennium Development Goals for Health are a set of global health goals that the United Nations hopes to achieve by 2015. The CNSi aims to address three of these goals including: reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

This story was written by Angela Greenslade, a communications specialist with Eastern Health.

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