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Nurses-to-Nurses: U.S. RNs Raising Funds for South African Counterparts


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By Megan Murdock Krischke, contributor

May 5, 2014 - Lauren Bruwer, RN, BSN, PCCN, clinical instructor for the department of nursing education and professional practice at the Cleveland Clinic (the Clinic), grew up in the South African village known as Hillcrest. It was there that Bruwer received her nursing education and practiced nursing for eight years.

When she and her husband learned of an opportunity for her to practice nursing in the United States, they couldn’t resist a 10-fold increase in nursing wages and fulfilling his dream of visiting America. After a lengthy immigration process, interrupted by the events of 9/11, Bruwer and her husband finally moved to Cleveland, Ohio, in 2003, where Bruwer took a job at the Clinic.

Lauren Bruwer raises funds for AIDS workers to become RNs in South Africa.
Lauren Bruwer, RN, BSN, PCCN, felt led to give back to the nursing profession in her South African hometown.

Bruwer returned to South Africa in January 2013 to visit family, and by the time she got back to the United States, she had a new calling.

“While I was home, there was a headline in the local paper about the nursing shortage in South Africa. It said that many South African nurses were receiving training and taking their first jobs locally, but then moving on to bigger and better things,” remarked Bruwer.  “Interestingly, it was in this same paper that I’d learned of the nursing shortage in the U.S. and the opportunity for foreign nurses to practice in the States.”

“I felt I needed to give back since I had been part of the ‘brain drain.’ I had received excellent training and experience in the village [small city] where my parents still live,” she continued. “I learned of an HIV respite center in the village run by the Methodist church and asked my mother if she would take me there. She knew that it was run by volunteers and I wanted an opportunity to see how I might be able to help.”

Bruwer’s home province has an extraordinarily high rate of HIV. Many people infected with the disease do not have access to health care and are dying at home alone or with children caring for them. These children often have to miss school. There is a significant need for a formal place where people can go to be cared for and die with dignity.

The Hillcrest AIDS Centre, the 24-bed facility that Bruwer and her mother visited, is run by a handful of nurses and lay people, most of whom are volunteers.

“I was so humbled by what they do in the absence of resources,” stated Brewer. “At the Clinic we have so many resources. These folks are making diapers out of newspapers, teaching patients how to rehydrate themselves and teaching their family members how to grow vegetables. These folks go in every day out of the goodness of their hearts and make patients comfortable and hold their hands and keep them clean. They rely on donations and make whatever is donated work.”

During her visit, Bruwer was convicted that she, along with The Cleveland Clinic Cultural Competency Committee on which she serves, could do something to support this respite center.

“I told one of the nurses there I wanted to help and asked what the center needed most. I figured the cultural committee I served on could raise money for diapers,” she commented.

“You know what we need? We need nurses,” the respite nurse told her. “The people who work here do this because they are passionate about caring for people, but they don’t have the means to go to nursing school.”

After her 10-day visit in South Africa, Bruwer returned home and shared the respite center’s need with the cultural committee. The committee was excited about the opportunity to help develop new nurses and is calling the program Nurses-to-Nurses.

Because of the exchange rate, the cost of sending a student to nursing school in South Africa is only $2,000 (U.S.). So the committee held two bake sales and raised $1,000.

“I returned to South Africa in June 2013, with the $1,000 gift. The center already had a young woman who was planning to start nursing school in September and we were all excited to have half of her tuition already covered,” expressed Bruwer. “The center’s workers invited me to their staff meeting and when I was introduced the group spontaneously stood up and began singing a Zulu song of thanks. The song expresses the group’s thanks to Jesus for sending people like me who have taken them from the bottom and moved them to the top.”

“It was touching and overwhelming to be standing there with such gracious and humble people,” she continued. “What I am doing is nothing compared to what they are doing.”

Bruwer, along with the cultural committee, have now raised more than a full year’s tuition for the training of respite center nurses.

“During this National Nurses Week, I hope this story will inspire nurses to go beyond the bedside and do great things. Nurses are such capable and passionate people who have a lot of credibility,” Bruwer encouraged. “There are so many nurses who have great ideas--they just need to take a chance and do it.  I’d love to inspire others to do something like this because there is such a great need.”

Click here to learn more about The Hillcrest Aids Centre or to make a donation.



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