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Graduate Saves Lives and Transforms Health Care in Ghana

03-26-2014
Barbara Denman in Ghana

Barbara Denman '98 (center) treats a patient in Komofo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi, Ghana.

Barbara Demman ’98 is leading a pioneering effort to train Ghanaian nurses in emergency medicine so they can open desperately needed hospital emergency departments and rural clinics throughout the nation. 

Dramatic improvement

The training program has the potential to dramatically improve patient care in a country where even basics like surgical scissors and painkillers are scarce and power and water outages hit hospitals without warning.

Twenty-two nurses have graduated from the emergency certification program, which was created by the Ghana Emergency Medical Collaborative (GEMC) team that Demman helped lead into the country with support from the nonprofit Project Hope. A second cohort of nurses will graduate later this year. They’re some of the best-prepared and best-educated nurses in the West African nation and the first with advance emergency certification in the country’s history, Denman said. But it’s their ability to educate other nurses that Demman sees as a game changer.

The multiplier effect

“What’s different about our program is its multiplier effect,” said Demman, a USF nursing alumna and UCLA School of Nursing faculty member. “If we train 10 nurses and each of them trains 10 nurses, the impact keeps growing. Think of all the patients we can reach.”

Demman has also trained nurses in the Dominican Republic, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. She was one of the first to volunteer with the GEMC team because she was attracted to the program’s sustainable model. 

Didn't solve the problem

“One thing I learned working abroad is that the only way to make a difference is to create a self-sustaining program,” said Demman, who was frustrated early in her career when similar medical teams she volunteered with “parachuted” into a country only to leave after two weeks. “We all had the best intentions, but it didn’t solve the problem.”

The program is supported by the Ghanaian health ministry and is already changing the mindset of physicians, who used to think the role of nurses was simply to comfort patients, change bedpans, and carry out doctors’ instructions. “Our graduates are trained in physiology, pharmacology, and emergency procedures. They’re prepared to take the initiative and ask a doctor to administer medicine to a suffering patient or to request an assessment of a patient’s unexplained symptoms—actions most wouldn’t have initiated before,” Demman said.

An adventure in serving others

This summer, she’ll head back to the Komofo Anokye Teaching Hospital to train and work alongside about 200 local nurses. The work is hard and requires long hours, with lines of patients sometimes stretching out the door. But Demman draws on what she learned at USF to keep going. “At USF, I saw my instructors traveling abroad, volunteering in rural clinics, publishing groundbreaking health research, and working with underserved populations. I realized that’s what nursing could be: an adventure in serving others,” she said.

Enthusiasm like that is what Margaret Hansen, an associate professor of nursing at USF, remembers most about teaching Demman in the late 1990s. The two have kept in touch and Hansen is Demman’s biggest cheerleader. “Barbara likes a challenge, and she has an adventuresome spirit and she’s doing incredible things,” Hansen said. “Talk about changing the world from here—she’s doing it.”

by Ed Carpenter | Office of Communications and Marketing »email usfnews@usfca.edu | Twitter @usfcanews