In Uganda, nursing degrees focus on midwifery. The concept of an oncology nurse doesn’t really exist; there is little specialized training.
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance’s Kathleen Shannon Dorcy and Arlyce Coumar want to change that.
In October, Shannon Dorcy and Coumar traveled to Uganda to participate in and attend TedX Kampala. Shannon Dorcy, director of Clinical/Nursing Research, Education and Practice at SCCA, spoke about hope. She shared her story of being a former nun married to a former priest, each of whom decided they needed to answer a different calling. “All of us, whether we are taking care of people with cancer or working with people with drug addiction, need that sense of being able to find hope as a shared community,” she says. “It’s about having a vision that you are being called to something.”
Coumar, an advance practice nurse at SCCA, is working with nurses at Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) to help improve patient outcomes; UCI has a partnership with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, one of three organizations that comprise SCCA.
Shannon Dorcy and Coumar are helping build a nursing curriculum for Uganda that takes into account the country’s culture. The two will travel twice a year to Uganda from Seattle and do livestream education at other times.
“We have to be very careful,” says Coumar. “It’s not about us rescuing them. It is not a mission. It is a collaboration.”
On their most recent trip, Coumar was impressed by the nurses’ dedication. Some had worked the night shift but stayed to learn from Coumar and Shannon Dorcy. Others had never used a computer and first had to learn basic skills such as how to scroll. One day, lunch was late and didn’t arrive until 2:30 pm. Even then the nurses, in the midst of a computer training, didn’t stop to eat. “They said, ‘I’m going to finish this module.’”
Many of the problems encountered by Ugandan nurses can’t even be fathomed in the U.S. For example, they don’t have enough hand gel or rooms to see patients, but they don’t focus on what’s lacking; instead, they’re interested in brainstorming how to provide palliative care to patients. They are also concerned about patients' lack of access to counseling services, as well as patients who may not return for follow-up visits because they live far from Kampala or can't afford care. “They didn’t dwell on lack of supplies,” says Coumar. “It’s about how can they help their patients.”
Their next trip is in February, when they will focus on infection prevention and caregiver education, highlighting the value of doing vital signs and blood cultures quickly and why low blood counts after chemotherapy can lead to infection.