Caring Amidst Crisis: A Columbia Nursing Student's Tale of True Resilience

Amy Balbierz shares her heartfelt practicum experience, which she completed during challenging national circumstances.

June 19, 2024

For the past three years, Columbia Nursing School has been collaborating with the Nairobi Center and the University of Nairobi's Department of Nursing Sciences on a practicum program at Kenyatta National Hospital, East Africa's oldest and second-largest hospital. Amy Balbierz, a Columbia Nursing student in the third cohort, recently completed her practicum during challenging national circumstances and shared her heartfelt experience.

Here's what Amy Balbierz had to say

I am grateful for the opportunity to complete my 6-week global integration at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) in Nairobi, Kenya, from April 2 to May 10, 2024. Meeting the team at Columbia Global Centers Nairobi, including Dr. Murugi Ndirangu, Ms. Pauline Muthoni, and Ms. Sandra Mikal Masira, was enlightening. This experience allowed me to explore Kenya and learn from the nursing staff at the largest teaching hospital in East Africa.

KNH, a public tertiary referral hospital, serves the poor, acutely ill, and underserved from Nairobi and remote Kenyan villages. Individuals from neighboring countries also travel far distances, often by foot, hoping to receive care at KNH. My time in Nairobi was marked by two global headlines:  catastrophic floods and a prolonged national doctors' strike that lasted almost two months. During my 2-week rotations in the pediatric ward, labor ward, and newborn unit, I saw the strike's impact: limited consultants' availability forced nurses to take on many doctors' duties, the nursing morale was strained due to the weather and working conditions, and the nurses who were rightfully burnt out continued to provide high-quality care with very limited resources. In one pediatric unit with over 35 patients with severe conditions from severe acute malnutrition, severe anemia, tuberculosis, and pneumonia to respiratory distress, only five were examined by the consultants. Witnessing mothers plead for their children's care was heartbreaking and frustrating. The poor and underserved, unable to afford private care, faced delays leading to complications and preventable deaths. 


Amidst the daily suffering, several patients left a lasting impact on me. I accompanied a 10-year-old boy with chronic kidney disease to dialysis twice a week and bonded with a 6-year-old boy with acute nephrotic syndrome, who tacitly assumed the role of my shadow, sat beside me while I charted, and asked me to listen to his heart. My time in the labor ward strengthened my interest in obstetrics and women's health. I assisted with medication protocols for eclampsia, scrubbed in for two emergency C-sections, and provided hand-off reports for patients transitioning from the labor ward to the postpartum unit.

Despite the challenging circumstances, my global integration experience enhanced my self-confidence, clinical judgment, and ability to care for acute patients, which will be invaluable in my future nursing career in New York City. I am forever grateful to the dedicated KNH nursing staff for modeling unwavering professionalism under harsh conditions and welcoming me to their units.