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Answering the Call

School in India trains a new generation of nurses

text and photographs by Sean Sprague

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Indians across the globe often complain of having to debunk the stereotype that they are all doctors or nurses. But in the same breath, many expatriate Indians will reveal that one or both of their parents urged them as youngsters to join the medical profession.

Indeed, Indians make up a sizable chunk of the health care ranks in the United States, the Gulf region and the United Kingdom, which has relied on its former colony to staff much of its National Health Service.

Medical and nursing schools dot the Indian landscape, but these educational institutions have long been the province of the country’s moneyed classes.

A nursing school in Muttuchira in the southwestern state of Kerala, however, is correcting this socioeconomic imbalance by lessening the financial burden faced by students trying to enter perhaps the most highly esteemed profession on the subcontinent. Founded in 1979 with 10 students, the Holy Ghost Mission Hospital Nursing School now boasts over 100 enrollees. Most come from families lacking the resources to guide their children into careers in medicine and rely on scholarships for their studies.

The school offers a three-year course in nursing, which leads to a state and nationwide certificate as a registered nurse and midwife. During the first two years the women study general nursing; in the third year they move on to midwifery, gynecology and public health. After the third year they serve a one-year internship at the adjacent Holy Ghost Mission Hospital, working as student nurses before earning their certificates.

Lowering the financial hurdles to medical education, however, has not meant lowering academic standards.

According to the school’s administrator, Adoration Sister Angelus, the school accepts 35 candidates a year out of a pool of more than 250 applicants.

“Our selection criteria require them to have high grades in science when they finish high school,” she says. “They must be between the ages of 17 and 27, single and of good health and character.” They must also have a good command of English, the language of instruction at the school and most colleges and universities in India.

Sudhil, 20, is in her second year. Economic hardship did not keep her from finishing high school, but paying for professional training was beyond the means of her cash-strapped family. “My father runs a small tea stall and my mother collects firewood from the forest,” she says. “Life is very difficult for them, but they managed to scrape together the 10,000 rupees ($220) for my first year of study.”

There was no money for a second or third year, but the school helped Sudhil find sponsors. “The second and third years cost less, 7,100 rupees plus a mess fee, but I am sponsored by some kind Keralites living in New York.”

Sudhil’s benefactors are often the friends or relatives of Father Matthew, who directs both the hospital and affiliated nursing school. Well into his 70’s, a fact belied by his smooth skin and bright eyes, he takes pride in shepherding his more needy students, making every effort to secure scholarships for those who cannot pay.

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Tags: India Education Women in India Nursing