by Denice Calub and Sandra Dickson

On November 12, 2011, we, Sandra Dickson and Denice Calub, attended the first annual Global Nursing Caucus Seminar (GNC) at Boston University Medical Center. The Global Nursing Seminar was established in February 2011. The goal of this conference is to recognize and provide cultural based education about care and create awareness about the need to restructure global nursing. The GNC mission takes an interdisciplinary and advocacy approach for best practice and collaborative mentoring. It also aims to create a safe space for nurses to converse and engage in issues that arise globally.

The keynote speaker was Manzi Anatole, director of the Mentoring and Enhanced Supervision (MESH) at health centers in Rwanda. He also works with Partners in Health. The goal of Anatole’s speech and the MESH program is to address the issues regarding the challenges to the quality of health care in Rwanda. Anatole emphasized the importance of mentorship of nurses in clinical centers in local towns, so the nurses could take more active roles in their communities. As an example, nurse trainers, who are also called MESH mentors, share their experiences and knowledge with local nurses in the health centers at the villages through one-on-one meetings.  This way health care problems in the Rwandan areas can be identified, analyzed, and addressed.  Moreover, the progress of the nurses is tracked on a weekly basis and they are assessed based on their utilization of evidence-based nursing.

The MESH program is a system that is still developing, yet we believe that it is powerful and beneficial to the quality of the country’s health care system. The transformation of the health care system, specifically through furthering the training of nurses, is a key component to a developing nation’s overall development. Anatole’s achievements and the changes that he implements in Rwanda’s health care system demonstrate to us the opportunities that an education and profession in nursing can bring. Listening and having the chance to view his plans for the programs broadened our understanding and knowledge as to what it means to work outside of the hospital as a nurse.

Other speakers present in the conference were Sheila Davis DNP, AND-BC, FAAN; Monica Onyango PhD, MPH, RNM; Lisa Sheldon PhD, APRN-BC; Elizabeth Glaser MSc, ACRN, RN-BC; and Rosanna F. DeMarco PhD, PHNS-BC, ACRN, FAAN. Although the contributions in global health of these individuals are all notable, the two speakers that stood out to us were Monica Onyango and Lisa Kennedy Sheldon.

Monica Onyango is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health and Department of International Health, and received her Master of Science degree in Nursing and a PhD in Nursing from Boston College. She is the cofounder and coordinator of the GNC. Her commitment to global health concerning reproductive and maternal health, and her research in HIV/AIDS led her to provide health services to communities in South Sudan, Angola, and Kenya. In her presentation, Dr. Onyango emphasized the inclusivity of global nursing by reminding her audience of the forgotten country when the word “global” is mentioned. That is, she reminded us that apart from participating in projects geared towards an improved health care system in the developing and Third World countries, looking out the window from our own homes or offices here in the United States also reveal an environment that call for a renewed health care system as well. She urged nurses and future nurses in the global health field to address this pressing issue existing in our suffering community. At times, we are more than likely to forget this critical fact, and Dr. Onyango’s reminder placed matters in perspective: being a global nurse is not merely serving those in need abroad, but rather serving wherever opportunity arises.

Lisa Kennedy Sheldon is an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, where she teaches undergraduate and doctoral nursing programs. She is currently involved with International Advisory Panel and the Research and Scientific Advisory Panel for the Oncology Nursing Society.

Dr. Sheldon volunteered in Honduras with the Honduran Mission Team Health Volunteers Overseas and the American Society of Clinical Oncology. During this time, her concern for global health began when she saw the extent of health care shortcomings there. While developing countries lack the medical supplies, technologies, and skills that are easily available to the United States, medical professionals trained in the United States, sometimes, lack the skills to use resources that are not as modern as those in the West. Dr. Sheldon stimulated our minds to think of possible preventions and solutions to these problems. She impressed upon us that although it is always feasible to fundraise for medical supplies, it is best if Western medical professionals, especially nurses, are educated and trained to be able to adapt to the various conditions presented in the greater world today, such as having older equipments that are still used in other geographic areas.

Overall, the Global Nursing Caucus conference deepened our understanding of global health and how it pertains to nursing. We learned of the issues that both developing and developed countries continue to deal with, such as gender inequality, lack of access to health care, famine, education, and poverty. The conference prompted a reality check to us: it reminded us that our country is sometimes neglected in the definition of global health nursing. More importantly, the conference taught us of the importance of the redefinition of global health. It does not merely mean committing volunteer hours to another country or going on a service trip—rather, it means fully devoting and engaging ourselves to the cause, starting from our years in nursing school.  As students in the Connell School of Nursing who are studying to be professionals at the forefront of the world of health care, we need to be aware of the issues that affect the entirety of the human population, and be willing to advocate and act for those concerns, whether it may be in the United States or abroad.