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UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 17 | November 1 , 2001

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 project.

"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 program.

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 education first-hand.

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 hospital service.

"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," says Dhahan.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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