Gifts from Ghana

International experience prepares student nurses to care across cultures

Aisha Bachh was several hours into her nursing shift at the Madina Polyclinic in Accra, Ghana, and the temperature was close to 30 degrees. She and her Ghanaian nurse mentor had already seen several patients that day. A 16-year-old girl was next in line. The two nurses started taking the girl’s health history, but after a few questions, the girl started to sob uncontrollably. She had been diagnosed with HIV and had no money for medication. Bachh listened as the Ghanaian nurse calmed the girl, speaking to her in a caring and professional way. “The patient transformed from this vulnerable, traumatized girl into someone with hope and renewed energy for her life,” Bachh says. “This moment profoundly impacted my approach to nursing.” 

Bachh was in Ghana to complete the final part of her nursing studies at UAlberta — a three-month, hands-on preceptorship, the transition between being a student and professional practice. Bachh and her classmates rotated through placements in the local clinic, school and hospital, gaining insight about health-care challenges around the world. 


Working at a clinic in Ghana prepared Aisha Bachh to better understand and care for diverse populations including refugees, immigrants and Indigenous peoples.


The Ghana program provides top-quality care to Ghanaian patients, and it brings years of study to life for UAlberta students. Most of them, like Bachh, say the experience was formative. “It challenged me to build personal connections with people from an unfamiliar culture and learn about their lives,” she says.

But student demand for the program outstrips the availability of placements. 

Donors like Barb and Doug Ast, whose granddaughter also completed her preceptorship in Ghana, make it possible for more nursing students to participate. It’s a priceless gift of perspective that teaches students how health and culture intersect and prepares them to make a difference back home. Graduates of the Ghana program — 186 of them over 20 years — have gone on to 100 per cent employment.

“I learned more about the values I hold as a nurse,” Bachh says of her time in Ghana. “Especially person-centred care, which means knowing my patient and their personal experience of health.”

“I learned more about the values I hold as a nurse,” Bachh says of her time in Ghana. “Especially person-centred care, which means knowing my patient and their personal experience of health.” 

Eventually, she wants to work with immigrants. As the daughter of immigrants, she says, she understands the experience well. With Canada’s demographics becoming increasingly culturally diverse, Bachh and other globally trained nurses will be ready to provide more compassionate patient care to a growing number of new Canadians.

“The growth students go through is palpable and, at the end, they radiate confidence. I feel like I could reach out and touch it,” says Isabelle Kelly, director of UAlberta’s Global Nursing Office. “Their learning and practices come together like a switch is flipped.” 

Kelly sees how hands-on learning builds resilience in young nurses and impacts the health care they will provide. “Imagine if every single nurse could know themselves that well.”

Related Stories

Well on their way
Research rethinks prescription for healthy schools and better outcomes

A fresh start
Mobile grocery store brings healthy food to communities that need it most

Legendary generosity
Athletics scholarships create leaders on and off the court