Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Saving Lives: Nursing and Health Care Education in Haiti Is Slowly Growing after the Catastrophic Earthquake of 2010

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Saving Lives: Nursing and Health Care Education in Haiti Is Slowly Growing after the Catastrophic Earthquake of 2010

Article excerpt

In the early 2000s, Hilda Alcindor had already had a decades-long career as a nurse and teacher. Her two daughters were grown and making their way in the world. Alcindor was living in Miami, where she worked at Mt. Sinai Medical Center and taught at North Miami High School. She was beginning to have the sort of feeling with which some empty-nesters are all too familiar.

"One Sunday I was at church," Alcindor tells Diverse. "For some reason I was thinking, 'I've got to find my purpose in life.' I was alone in the house so I needed to find something to do. Even though I was working, I said to myself, 'I can do better than that."'

Serendipitously, Alcindor says, she soon received a call from organizers affiliated with the Presbyterian Church who were working to create a nursing school, FSIL (Faculte des Sciences Infirmieres de l'Universite Episcopale d'Haiti), in Leogane, Haiti. They were looking for a dean for FSIL and wanted to know if she would consider the position.

At first, Alcindor was skeptical. "I said, 'I don't know how to be a dean,'" she says. Nevertheless, Alcindor was persuaded to make a visit to Leogane to visit the new school. Soon, she was sold on the idea. With its new leader in place, FSIL opened its doors to its first class of 36 Haitian students in 2005.

Fast forward ten years and FSIL has already graduated 115 students. The latest cohort of 15 graduates celebrated the successful completion of their studies in late October. FSIL was recently evaluated during the Haiti's Ministry of Health reconnaissance, or accreditation process, of the country's nursing schools. FSIL was ranked among Haiti's best.

What differentiates FSIL from other nursing schools in Haiti is that it offers a baccalaureate in nursing. The majority of nurses in Haiti, including those at the public university, are educated no further than the diploma level.

From the outset, FSIL students were taught by Haitians and volunteers from the United States. "Our real goal is not to teach, but to teach the teacher," says Dr. Joanne Pohl, president of the Haiti Nursing Foundation (HNF) and professor emerita at the University of Michigan School of Nursing. "We are very focused on the development of our Haitian faculty. We really want this to be Haitian run and Haitian led." HNF is a nonprofit that was incorporated in 2005 to serve as FSIL's fundraising arm.

All these accomplishments would be remarkable in almost any context, but set against the challenges that Haiti has faced, particularly in the past five years, they are all the more striking.

Le tranblemannte

Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, and the health needs of the country are great. According to the latest available World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, which date from 2000 to 2007, there are 3 physicians per 10,000 persons and 1 nurse per 10,000 persons in Haiti.

The country was already severely under resourced when an earthquake of a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude struck in January 2010, killing hundreds of thousands of people. Many buildings were destroyed or badly damaged. The nursing school in Port-au-Prince was leveled, collapsing on top of nursing students and faculty.

Leogane, the town where FSIL is located, was close to the epicenter of the earthquake. According to some estimates, 90 percent of the town was destroyed. Miraculously, FSIL's buildings survived unscathed, which Pohl attributes to the care and the resources that went into building it.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, FSIL became an emergency medical center. International doctors and aid workers made their way to Leogane to provide medical assistance and other aid to survivors. Pohl estimates that 5,000 refugees passed through the school during that time. Nursing students were called into action to assist those injured or displaced by the earthquake.

"The students--why would they--had never seen anything like this," Pohl tells Diverse. …

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