Fulbright Scholar Stories | Donna McNeese-Smith

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Donna McNeese-Smith

Associate Professor and Coordinator, Nursing Administration Graduate Program, Department of Nursing, University of California—Los Angeles, CA
Research: Drug and Alcohol Abuse Education of the Indian Public by Nurses
Host: P.S. Govindaswamy College of Nursing, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India
September 2005 – March 2006

Following World War II, Senator J. William Fulbright promoted the idea of initiating awards to encourage U.S. students, college teachers and researchers to serve as cultural ambassadors as they worked and studied abroad. During my doctoral study, Dr. Roy Wahle—one of my professors at Seattle University—had been a Fulbright Scholar to India, and often shared his experiences with us. I decided then that I wanted to follow in his footsteps, and my husband strongly supported the idea.

A doctoral student of mine at UCLA School of Nursing—who was from India—introduced me to the Director of PSG College of Nursing in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India via the Internet. The director, Ms. Jean Abraham, fully supported the idea of having a Fulbright Scholar at her faculty. In 2004, I wrote a Fulbright application proposal to conduct research with PSG faculty, psychiatric nurses from hospitals, and community health nurses. Several members of the PSG faculty were my co-researchers for a study titled, “Education of the Public in India, by Nurses, about Drug and Alcohol Abuse.” I also committed myself to teaching in both substance abuse and in nursing administration.

Graduate nursing students at PSG that I was teaching

In May, 2005, we (my husband Bill and I) received notification that I had been selected. It took until September before multiple bureaus of the Indian government approved my research, and we were able to take our malaria pills, two computers, one violin, four suitcases and a backpack off to India.

After a brief stay in Delhi, where we were received at an orientation by the United States Educational Foundation in India, we flew into hot and humid Coimbatore, where we were greeted by PSG faculty, UCLA student Christiana Baskaran and her family. They had reserved a local hotel room for us, and over the next several weeks, we became acquainted with the faculty, looked for long-term housing and got settled.

PSG faculty

What an adventure! We learned to get around by ourselves by auto rickshaw, got registered with the local police commissioner, bought groceries and basic supplies, such as a pan to cook in and pillows, from local stores and markets. We got connected to the Internet in my PSG office, received library privileges, met all the VIPs at PSG University, and found an apartment in the same building where the director lives. This all sounds easy but each of these accomplishments took multiple trips and a lot of assistance from our Indian friends. For example, it took six trips to the police commissioner’s office to receive our stamped approval. Once we found an apartment we still had to learn how to get filtered water, rid the apartment of local varmints, get a maid to help us clean the apartment, and wash our clothes daily on the bathroom floor.

Faculty researchers at PSG College of Nursing in Coimbatore

Every several days we would have a plumbing or electrical crisis, which took some time to remedy. My husband spent time coordinating these activities. In the meantime, I got the faculty involved in the research study, and began to receive invitations to speak, such as at the undergraduate graduation. In October, we traveled by train to Chennai (formerly Madras) on the east coast to attend and present at the International AIDS conference. We met several UCLA faculty there and a wonderful group of nurses from India, and pledged to meet again in two years. During each trip, we also made time to tour the temples and see the other highpoints of the country.

After we returned, I planned a two-day workshop for Coimbatore nurses on strategic planning, managing change, project management, management information systems, leading meetings, and using power. John Barnes, UCLA graduate and nursing administrator, joined us and helped with these conferences. We also conducted a conference for Manipal Academy, over on the Arabian Sea, during International Education Week. Interestingly, I met a nurse I had advised, by e-mail, on her research, and we both were reminded of how connected nurses from all over the world can be.

In November, we had a three-day conference in Chandigahr, with the Fulbright Scholars from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and those from the Mideast. Chandigahr, the only planned city in India, is located in the northwest and is the capital of Punjab. The Fulbright Scholars all presented their projects in a variety of subjects, including engineering, other healthcare professions, forestry, dancing, architecture, and business and informatics education. It was probably the most interesting group with whom I have ever spent time. Bill and I were also able to take two days to visit sites such as the Golden Temple and the Pakistani border.

Dean and a faculty member Christopher at Manipal Academy, with me

December and January were focused on teaching and finishing the research. We ran three focus groups, one of faculty, one of hospital psychiatric nurses, and one with community health nurses. Luckily my research partners spoke Tamil, the local language. We then convened a Nurses’ Advisory Group to advise us on our educational intervention. We organized a five-hour educational intervention on substance abuse, specifically on how nurses can teach prevention and get the addicted into treatment.

We presented the material and created an educational booklet for the nurses. We designed a questionnaire to evaluate nurse attitudes before and after the intervention. Two to three weeks later, we found significant differences from before to after the intervention; after the intervention, nurses stated they felt much more confident about their ability to intervene. The third questionnaire also gathered qualitative information about educational interventions that the nurses performed. (A second brief intervention, which lasted only one hour, did not show significant differences, supporting the idea that, if you want to create change, you must invest enough time to effect the change.)

Fulbrighters and their families, and the Indian Fulbright staff at the semiannual conference at Chandigarrh

India is a land of constant sounds like the mussahs, calling from the minarets to worship, incessant honking of car horns, and chanting from the temples; it is a land of great extremes; a land of holidays and celebrations: Hindu, Muslim and Christian. There is a great emphasis on education, passing examinations, and parents worrying about success for their children, especially among those who can afford private schools. While some healthcare is available for all, among the poor it may require hours or days of waiting to see a physician. Nursing education is often of good quality, but there is little opportunity to practice at the level students are taught, and cultural traditions interfere with autonomous practice. There is little leadership in healthcare organizations by nurses and few good role models. Nurses primarily follow orders, though community health nurses are constantly involved in teaching. However, the country and the nursing profession are ripe for change and nurses, administrators and physicians were very interested in what I was teaching.

If you are considering applying for a Fulbright Scholar Award and are comfortable with ambiguity, I encourage you to consider this wonderful opportunity for a fabulous adventure. I hope all of you will take advantage of any opportunity to dialogue with those from other countries and allow yourselves to experience the wonder of life in other parts of our small planet. There is such a need for all of us to be ambassadors of good will to all. Vannakum and blessings to you all.