Building collaborations in California and Kenya
Laura Van Auker’s passion to serve others is at the heart of her 40-year career as a nurse practitioner. Her deep commitment to public health guides her life as an educator in Sacramento and a global ambassador in Kenya.
“Public health is really looking at ways to serve low-resource populations,” said Van Auker, an assistant professor at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis. “Because I have a subspecialty in rural health, part of my skills working in low-resource environments has transferred into my interest in these global activities.”
In late 2018, Van Auker visited Kenya, representing UC Davis as a Global Affairs Faculty and Staff Ambassador. She presented at the University of Nairobi School of Nursing and reached out to other nursing schools in the region, building partnerships and mutually beneficial collaborations.
“In Kenya, or countries like Kenya, there is a long history of nurses carrying a lot of community health responsibility but struggling to advance nursing education into the areas with the greatest need,” she said.
Owing to her work with the UC Davis Health Interprofessional Teaching Scholars Program, Van Auker researches methods to improve quality patient outcomes using a team-based health care approach, one which includes nurses, pharmacists, physicians and physician assistants (P.A.) working together.
That spirit of collaboration led to an active-learning education approach using food as medicine. One School of Nursing class examined culturally focused diet counseling and resources for Afghan and Hmong clients with iron deficiency anemia. P.A. and family nurse practitioner students experienced a lunch buffet featuring high-iron dishes from those cultures to enhance multicultural dietary counseling skills, strengthen clinician cultural humility and address social determinants of health in local immigrant populations.
“You don’t have to leave the country to make an international impact. California has great diversity, so there is a lot to be said for local travel. It opens you to being really alert and alive, to taking in the world and seeing yourself as a global citizen. So, we emphasize to our students you can have global experience locally as well.”
When it comes to collaborations — whether near or far — Van Auker sees the possibilities that come from learning new perspectives, different resources and in forming new connections.
“I’m a global nurse, and that’s what I'm most proud of.”
Kenyan collaboration expands UC Davis nursing impact
Leveraging years of connections in Africa and expertise in team-based health care education, the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis engages on a global level. A $7,500 grant from UC Davis Global Affairs aims to promote global health and wellness mutually through interprofessional education and practice.
“Collaborative health care teams are not the norm in Kenya. But at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, we’ve learned collaborative health care teams can improve patient outcomes,” Van Auker said. “We are excited to share what we’ve learned about interprofessional education with educators in Kenya and see how they might tailor those experiences within their health framework.”
Van Auker, who also serves as a UC Davis Global Ambassador, and Professor Debra Bakerjian lead a local, student-focused effort with the global component of collaboration with the University of Nairobi.
Over the past several months, School of Nursing students participated in seminars that enhance understanding of UN Sustainable Development Goal No. 3 for Health and Wellness Improvement. Sometime in the next year, an interprofessional team of faculty and alumni will travel to Nairobi to collaborate with the Kenyan Schools of Medicine and Nursing to present an interprofessional team training workshop and participate in joint clinical activities.
The goal is to partner in the development of potential clinical sites in Kenya that will provide an annual global experiential learning opportunity for School of Nursing students.