Returning to South Africa

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One MHIRT Alum’s Summer Experience Shaped Her Nursing Career

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Alumna Stacie Stender in South Africa

MHIRT fellows only live and work at their research sites for eight to ten weeks. However, the MHIRT program aims to instill fellows with a lifelong commitment to addressing health disparities on an international scale. For alumna Stacie Stender ’99, MSN ’01, the program has made all the difference in her choice of a career.

Before studying as a MHIRT fellow, says Stender, “I never had any intention of traveling to South Africa, let alone working there.” She applied for the program out of a desire to learn about health care issues that affect developing countries across the world, and conducting research in the poverty-stricken section of Cape Town known as Cape Flats represented an excellent opportunity. As a fellow, Stacie developed an interviewing tool with both qualitative and quantitative aspects to assess hypertension risks in black residents of the Cape Flats. She also taught a class on advanced practice nursing at the University of the Western Cape.

Nearly four years after her initial trip to South Africa, Stender returned as Clinical Advisor for the Columbia University International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP). For nearly three years, Stender lived in a remote region of the Eastern Cape, working on an HIV care and treatment program funded by the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and supporting four district hospitals and more than twenty primary health care clinics.

stender2In 2007, Stender moved back to Cape Town to work as Clinical Coordinator with a South African NGO, TB Care Association, on a project to integrate TB and HIV care and treatment. Since then, she has been busy assisting many small NGOs with projects around Cape Town. In January 2009 she will begin serving as an HIV/AIDS and TB Regional Technical Advisor with Jhpiego, an affiliate of Johns Hopkins University.

Besides introducing her to an unfamiliar country, the MHIRT program helped Stender develop an understanding of the social and political contexts that nurses in South Africa negotiate-an understanding that has proven vital to her work. However, she looks back most fondly on the personal connections she was able to make. “I met and befriended some truly amazing South African women as a MHIRT fellow, and my experience wouldn’t have been as rich as it was without them,” says Stender. “I also had the opportunity to get to know Martha Hill, who was my U.S. faculty mentor. She has been a great friend, and you could say that she’s been my life mentor, too.”

–RM


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