Nursing partnership in Punjab focuses on health, education
Seed of idea planted by parent of alumni 20 years ago
by Hilary Thomson staff writer
A vision of better education for young women and improved health-care
in rural Punjab has led to a partnership between UBC's School of
Nursing, community nurses and a local Indo-Canadian charity.
Since 1997, the school has worked with the Guru Nanak College of
Nursing in Dhahan-Kaleran, Punjab to develop an internationally
recognized baccalaureate program.
"Working on this project has been an absolute joy," says Nursing
Prof. Sally Thorne, chair of the advisory committee that oversees
the initiative. "This is an inspirational group of people who see
opportunities, are willing to confront issues and are absolutely
dedicated to their mission."
The project was envisioned 20 years ago by Budh Singh Dhahan,
a Vancouver resident whose children have all attended UBC. His son
Barj, a UBC Arts graduate, heads the foundation that sponsors the
"It was a natural fit for us to seek UBC's help in this," he says.
"Our family has strong ties with the university, there is support
from the large Indo-Canadian population here and the School of Nursing
has the teaching expertise we needed."
Some of the challenges to educating nurses in Punjab include different
nursing cultures, says Thorne, where most training is not interactive.
Nurses are expected to take a passive role and are generally not
encouraged to be independent decision-makers.
In addition to participation on the advisory committee some faculty
members, including the school's acting director Sonia Acorn, have
traveled to Punjab state to help develop curriculum for the nursing
UBC Canada House, a residence for visiting faculty from Canada
and the U.S., is located at the site of the hospital that the foundation
built in 1984.
In addition to faculty visits, both undergraduate and graduate
students and School of Nursing alumni -- many of whom have family
ties to the area -- have traveled to the hospital to complete directed
studies programs and help train local nurses.
Because it is a rural area, conditions are still pretty rough
by Canadian standards, says Thorne. Local hotels, restaurants and
transportation and telecommunications services are often unreliable.
Despite the conditions, students and Canadian nurses are eager
for the opportunity to learn about health challenges such as tropical
diseases as well as other models of health-care delivery, she says.
Next spring, five to six undergraduates from the Punjab college
will come to UBC to attend classes and experience Canadian nursing
UBC faculty are currently involved in a health assessment project
in the area that will develop a database of birth and mortality
rates, childhood disease and other statistics, and inform plans
for village health camps and suggest community education needs.
For example, families traditionally carried meals to hospitalized
relatives and although hospitals now provide food for patients,
many villagers will not enter hospital unless it is within walking
distance of their home.
The hospital at Dhahan-Kaleran can accommodate 300 patients, however
only about 160 beds are used because of inaccurate perceptions about
"We know if we offer health education in rural areas and particularly
if we educate young women, we will not only empower them but also
create leaders who will have a positive influence on life in India,"