Tuesday, 26 March 2013

My Biggest Lessons by Kirsten Ziegenhagel

Since I first stepped off the plane in Ghana every single day has been a life lesson for me.  Firstly, I have gained a greater appreciation for my own country and a realization of how fortunate I am.  Secondly, I have learned a lot about what kind of a person I want to be and have redefined my values.  Lastly, I have discovered the importance of humility in my personal life as well as in my nursing career.

My appreciation for Canada has grown tremendously over the last month and a half.  Before leaving Canada, I would frequently complain of trivial issues such as the annoyance of being stuck in traffic on the Anthony Henday or that the coffee shop was no longer selling my favourite drink.  In terms of our health care system I would complain about issues such as the staff to patient ratio and emergency wait times.  Although these are issues that our healthcare is faced with, I can now see that other places in the world are dealing with much bigger problems and disparities. 

In Ghana, the healthcare system is completely overwhelmed.  The nurses have to battle with decisions on who can receive care for based on the resources that are available to themAn example would be that if two patients were in need of a ventilator, the hospital may only have one and the staff would have to make an executive decision on who gets the ventilator.  This is a problem that Canadians will likely never have to face.  The lack of resources and healthcare providers is a huge problem in Ghana. The nurse to patient ratio can be as high as sixty patients to three nurses, making it extremely difficult to provide adequate care for all patients.  These types of healthcare issues, as well as the disparity I see while driving to the hospital has allowed me to appreciate the resources and support we have in Canada.

Secondly, I have been able to reflect upon myself and my own values.  I feel empowered to do more not only for the rest of the world, but for the people within my community.  I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing Ghanaians that are making a huge difference within their community.  This past weekend, we were fortunate to go to a small village and see firsthand how an individual in the area was making a difference.  This person had developed his own NGO and had been actively involved in ensuring that the children of his community could go to school. His actions have empowered me to become more involved not only by donating money or resources when I can, but by volunteering my time and advocating for NGO’s that I know are putting their money and resources directly into the people they are helping.  I have learned that there is a lot I can do to make a small difference in someone’s life.

 I have also been able to evaluate what is important in my own life.  I realize now more than ever that my family is the most important aspect of my life.  While nursing in Ghana, I have been able to see just how precious life really is.  People are dying needlessly from illnesses that may have been prevented or treated in Canada, and I have seen several individuals pass away before they should have.  Seeing a one year old girl pass away opened up my eyes to how life can slip away in a moment.  I plan on spending more time with my loved ones when I get home and really cherishing them.  I plan to put aside all of the squabbles we may have had before I left and focus on enjoying my moments with them.  This has been a huge revelation for me, and I do not think I would have been able to grasp just how precious life is without my experiences in Ghana.

Lastly, I feel incredibly humbled by the experiences I have had so far.  Cultural humility “requires embracing the belief that one’s own culture is not the only or best culture” (Byrd et al., 2012).  I myself did not have this belief, however I had no idea what to expect from Ghanaian culture.  I have been able to embrace it and learn a lot about my own culture and beliefs through watching the way the Ghanaians interact and go about with their daily activities.  I have also been humbled by the disparity that I have witnessed in Ghana. The issues that people face here are much greater than I could ever have imagined. Their strength to continue never ceases to amaze me, and I feel grounded by what I have seen. While walking through a small village recently, almost all of the people lived in shacks and many children appeared malnourished due to their swollen bellies.  I had never experienced poverty like that before, and it sickens me that I had complained so much about trivial issues at home. 

This experience has taught me that the rest of the world has so much to offer and I can learn so much from people of other cultures.  In my nursing career there is a lot of focus surrounding “cultural awareness, knowledge, attitudes, and skills” (Chang et al., 2012).   Having this experience in Ghana, I can now fully appreciate the necessity of being culturally competent in my career as a nurse.  I feel extremely blessed to have been able to experience Ghana and the lessons I have learned during my time here.


Byrd L, Schuessler J, & Wilder B (2012). Reflective Journaling and Development of CULTURAL HUMILITY IN STUDENTS. Nursing Education Perspectives, p. 96-99. Retrieved March 17th, 2013 from: EBSCOhost.

Chang ES, Dong X & Simon M (2012). Integrating cultural humility into health care professional education and training. Advances in Health Sciences Education, p. 269-278. Retrieved March 17th, 2013 from: EBSCOhost.

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