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Nursing a noble ambition

Hema Santhanam, a nurse practitioner in the U.S., who was in Chennai recently, shares her experiences in treating HIV patients.


"THERE SEEMS to be an alarming rise in HIV cases in India. According to research given the exponential growth and lack of good health care system, India could exceed Africa in the coming years," says Hema Santhanam, nurse practitioner in the U.S., who was in Chennai recently to give a series of lectures at the Sri Ramachandra Medical College and other NGOs.

With a Masters in nursing and advanced diploma, Hema specialises in treating HIV patients. "India has some of the best institutes for nurses, but training them to deal with HIV patients is still in the nascent stages. Besides medical assistance, nurses should be able to handle their emotional problems too," she says. She shared her experiences with aspiring nurses at various institutes and NGOs in Chennai Bangalore.

With more than a decade of experience , Hema says that patience, perseverance and prudence is all that it takes to be in this noble profession. "My job does not end with just taking care of patients, sometimes I take on the role of a general practitioner — diagnosing, prescribing medicines and following up on the out-patients. Nursing is not confined to just taking care of patients, it also involves administrative work and calls for a certain amount of supervisory and managerial skills."

Hema started her career as a counsellor and mostly dealt with alcoholics and drug addicts, which eventually led her to take up nursing. Today, she runs her own consulting firm in New York, Anjali Consulting Services, where she provides technical expertise and counselling. Born and brought up in the U.S., this was an opportunity that Hema looked forward to. "I contacted a few NGOs in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to share my experiences as part of my agenda and I was glad that people at TANSAC (Tamil Nadu Aids Control Society) and SIAAP (South India Aids Action Programming) were very cooperative. During my visit to the NGOs and rural areas, what struck me was the great disparity between people who have access to medical facilities and those deprived of even basic health care. This hiatus has to be bridged before we think of creating awareness about HIV.

"Tuberculosis seems to be another major concern here. If a person is HIV positive, his/her immune system becomes very weak and the person succumbs to other infections. TB is one such easily transmittable disease."

Although the nursing ethics and the condition of patients may not be the same in India and abroad, she finds that the counsellors here are doing commendable work. "Like in every field one has to constantly upgrade one's knowledge. Ongoing education is compulsory, workshops, seminars, training on the latest treatments and care are imperative. Moreover, in my experience here, I found that people are information-starved, so frequent training and dissemination of information is required."

Talking about gender issues in nursing, Hema agrees that it is predominantly a woman's profession.

"Women are considered good care givers, so teaching and nursing were regarded to be ideal for women.

But the trends are changing now and many men are taking up nursing."

She thinks that the reason for this profession taking a new dimension could also be attributed to the job opportunities abroad. "There is a great shortage of nurses in the U.S, U.K and Middle East. And nurses from India are well regarded and respected. This immigration is natural as it provides for a better living, but if this trend continues, there would be a crisis in India."

As for her future plans, she plans to come back in a year. "I plan to look for some funding before coming back. I'm looking forward to bringing in the technology as `train the trainer programme' and guide key players in the industry so that they will be able to disseminate the information to others in need."

PRASSANA SRINIVASAN

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