AFT nurses visit Sri Lanka to exchange ideas

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AFT Healthcare nurses Mari Cordes and Barbara Rock traveled to Sri Lanka in March as part of a trip sponsored by the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center, which works with unions worldwide to strengthen workers' economic and political power. The three-day visit gave the nurses an opportunity to exchange information and ideas with Sri Lankan nurses who are members of the Government Nursing Officers' Association, a union representing nurses in the country's public hospitals.

The nurses were invited to Sri Lanka by the GNOA as part of the union's effort to improve the professional development of its members. A big issue for nurses in Sri Lanka is the absence of standardized training to become a registered nurse. "Right now there is no research to compare the content of nurse training in the public and private sectors," says the Solidarity Center's Sonia Mistry.

One of the initiatives being considered would allow the GNOA to compare Sri Lanka's training of nurses with that of other countries. The aim would be to help raise the quality of the training provided to nurse candidates in Sri Lanka, leading to a nursing license that would give the nurses increased professional mobility.

During the visit, Cordes and Rock toured a public hospital to see the nurses' working environment firsthand. When the hospital is overcrowded, as it sometimes is, the nurses work the wards without nursing aides. However, members of a patient's family are often on hand to feed and provide non-nursing care for the patient.

In talking with the nurses in Sri Lanka, "there was an eagerness to figure out how nurses do things in the United States," says Rock, an RN and chair of the statewide nurses committee for the New York State Public Employees Federation. "The Sri Lanka nurses have a desire to improve training and the care they are giving; having a conversation with nurses from as far away as the U.S. meant a lot to them."

"To see where these nurses work and to know that they have so little and yet are committed to growing their union and developing their profession is inspiring," says Cordes, a registered nurse and president of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.

AFT Healthcare and the Solidarity Center are considering next steps for their work with the Sri Lankan nurses. One idea is to help the union in standardizing the requirements for becoming a registered nurse in Sri Lanka. Another step would be to encourage members of the nurses union to work with the private sector nurses in the country to improve nurse training and practice. The collaboration would allow them to present a unified front with the Sri Lankan government in their effort to improve the training standards for the country's nurses as well as the quality of patient care. [Adrienne Coles]

May 7, 2013