Over my nursing career, I have been fortunate to work as a both a pediatric hematology/oncology nurse and nurse practitioner at institutions providing excellent care to children with cancer and blood disorders. These experiences have provided me access to a variety of educational opportunities, a comprehensive nursing core curriculum through APHON, and certification in pediatric hematology/oncology nursing and chemotherapy/biotherapy.
In 2017 and 2018, I had the privilege to travel to Mbarara, Uganda, to provide clinical and didactic nursing education and training to newly hired nurses in the pediatric oncology ward at Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital. Mbarara is a city about a five-hour drive from Kampala, which is the capital of Uganda. I was working in the pediatric hematology/oncology program at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) at the time. I was approached by our medical director and nursing leadership in the Global Health program at MGH to help develop a pediatric oncology nursing curriculum which I would then use for education and training. Nurses in developing countries enter the profession at different skill levels and do not receive formal training within the specialty that they work in.
I initially worked with two pediatric nurses who were identified to undergo training in the unique care that oncology patients require, and I later returned to train an additional five nurses. The curriculum was created using the APHON Chemo/Bio Provider book as well as the Essentials of Pediatric Hematology Nursing. The curriculum included the different types of chemotherapy used to treat childhood cancer, how to safely administer chemotherapy, the use of PPE, and the most common side effects of chemotherapy. I spent time discussing the psychosocial aspect of oncology nursing and how we care not only for the patient but their families as well. The goals of the program were to provide the nurses with a solid knowledge base of pediatric cancer, how to safely administer chemotherapy, and how to manage the common complications of treatment.
The nurses taught me a few things also during my time there. For example, nurses often mix chemotherapy when a pharmacist is not available; they often do not have the chemotherapy they need to treat the patients due to the supply chain. Adult patients receiving chemotherapy often do not have the necessary funds to pay for chemotherapy which results in delays in their therapy. Blood products are not readily available, red blood cells are donated by a parent, and platelets are a precious commodity. It is a good day when a unit of platelets is available for a leukemia patient.
I was able to spend a good amount of time with the patients and families during my time at the hospital. They spent time sharing their stories with me and taught me about their culture. They greeted me each day with smiles and words of thanks for coming to their country to help train the nurses, but also to care for their children.
I will never forget my time in Mbarara, Uganda. I made many new friends and learned some new things along the way as well. The time I spent with the patients and families I will never forget and reminded me what I love about being a nurse. I was able to care for patients and their families, share the knowledge of pediatric oncology that I have acquired over the years, and share with the nurses my love for pediatric oncology nursing. It is the little things in life that bring us the most joy and my experience as an international nurse in Uganda will stay with me forever.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my story and if you ever get a similar opportunity, take full advantage, you will never regret it.