Off the Clock: Nurse’s Medical Mission Becomes a Global Education

Posted: October 26, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

In Zimbabwe, where one in four people are HIV positive, there are more signs about HIV prevention and awareness alongside the streets than there are actual road signs. The virus runs rampant in both rural and city areas, affecting newborn babies and adults, and hospitals and clinics are often short-staffed and low on supplies.

Kathy Dickman, a nurse practitioner and instructor in the College of Health and Human Services, recently traveled to Zimbabwe for a medical mission sponsored by Pender United Methodist Church in Fairfax. With one minister and three other nurses, Dickman spent two weeks providing health care, medications and supplies to clinics and hospitals in Mutare. They also provided clothes, blankets and school supplies to children in an orphanage in the same area.

Kathy Dickman in Zimbabwe
Kathy Dickman, a nurse practitioner and instructor in the College of Health and Human Services, visited Zimbabwe on a medical mission.

The group was hosted by Africa University, and they stayed in dormitories on the campus during their visit and interacted with African students. Eating meals in the cafeteria with students, Dickman saw their passion for learning and human service.

“The majority of the students we talked to wanted to go back home after their studies to serve their own people,” she says.

The medical mission team discussed the concept of a parish nurse with university faculty and administrators in the College of Nursing and Public Health Science. Dickman believes a parish nurse would work well in Zimbabwe because he or she would serve not only the medical needs of a community, but also the spiritual needs.

“Many young people are dying in this country,” Dickman says. “It’s tremendously devastating to a community, and they need emotional and spiritual support as well as health care.”

At an AIDS clinic in Mutare, Dickman and her team helped the clinic’s director treat patients. In a small building with few medical supplies in a rural area, the treatment for the patients – all HIV positive – is often minimal. The director of the clinic barely had any medication, gloves or stethoscopes.

Particularly heartbreaking for Dickman were the patients they had to turn away. She remembered one patient in particular who needed an antibiotic. The clinic had the antibiotic, but they had no syringes to administer it. “It’s very frustrating not to be able to help them all.”

In Zimbabwe, the average life expectancy is 37 years. Zimbabwe health workers are making great strides in educating the community about HIV, says Dickman, so that more people will get tested. Working side-by-side with nurses from Zimbabwe, Dickman says the learning was mutual. “I taught the nurses physical assessment skills, and they taught me about AIDS and tropical illnesses. There was a real sense of professional sharing and respect.”

Despite the tremendous hurdles facing the health-care workers, Dickman says the community is strong. She hopes to keep up a relationship with the people she met and is planning to go back for another mission as soon as possible. “It’s inspiring what people can do with so little,” she says.

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