Senior nursing student and Honors College Fellow Kelly Toner has participated in missionary trips since the age of 14. For her honors thesis, Kelly found a new way to make a difference by developing an orientation module for volunteers in the Midwives for Haiti program.
The U of A’s Eleanor Mann School of Nursing will screen a short documentary on Midwives for Haiti next Tuesday, September 20th at 6 p.m. in the Walker Community Room at the Fayetteville Public Library. Kelly and her faculty mentor, Cara Osborne, an assistant professor of nursing, will be speaking after the screening about their work with the program.
Below, Kelly answers five questions about her thesis experience and her plans for the future.
Question: How has your faculty mentor, Cara Osborne, helped you in your research?
She has provided a lot of moral support and guidance, because walking into a thesis at nursing school you don’t know what to expect. It looked a lot different than what I was expecting. Research doesn’t always have to be a paper or testing a hypothesis. It can be finding a problem and figuring out a way to fix it. In my case, that’s making a module for training volunteers. Cara has been with me in figuring out what this is going to look like and how we can be useful to Midwives for Haiti.
Question: Why is the infant mortality rate in Haiti so high? How do you expect the program to lower this?
Answer: It’s so rural – there aren’t enough doctors and midwives or skilled birth attendants in Haiti. It isn’t a cultural expectation to receive prenatal care, which could help with a lot of issues that they run into with childbirth. Learning about nutrition and what to do before the birth – that’s something we take for granted here. The thing I really like about Midwives for Haiti is that it’s sustainable. The primary instructors are Haitian, and the courses are taught in their language, Hinche. Their graduates are employed by Midwives for Haiti, and then they train others. Even if Midwives for Haiti stopped work tomorrow, their impact would continue through newly trained Haitian skilled birth attendants, not just the American volunteers. It is a great program because they’re helping the Haitian people to help themselves.
Question: How will you measure the success of the program?
Answer: I will be sending out the module to a select group of new volunteers for Midwives for Haiti, and they will go through the orientation and then we will send out evaluation forms and see if it is actually preparing them for the program. Another idea is to have a future honors nursing student at the U of A work with volunteers who have been in Midwives for Haiti already. The past volunteers would review the module to see if they feel it would have been something that would have helped them before they left. My goal is to have it as effective as possible, as quickly as possible with as few revisions as possible.
Question: Has your honors thesis work changed your perspective in any way?
Answer: This project has definitely shaped my view of the future. I always wanted to be the one going [overseas]. Now I have a deep respect for the people who stay here and help others go. There is something to be said for Haitians helping their own people rather than an American coming in to fix things. It’s much more powerful when it comes from people of their own culture.
Question: What’s next for you?
Answer: I graduate in May. Working with ‘Midwives for Haiti’ would fulfill the master’s degree research requirement perfectly. I will work as a nurse for a full year first, because experience is important in this field. Then I’ll go on to a master’s degree program. A master’s in public health is right up my alley.
Next week, Kelly will attend a retreat for ‘Midwives for Haiti’ in Richmond, VA. There she will present her thesis project and gather reactions and suggestions from the program’s board to continue improving her program.
Interview has been condensed and edited.
To hear Kelly’s interview with KUAF click here.