Nursing School Dean Serves Needs Of India's Poorest

  • News Photo 296
    Nursing School Dean Phyllis Karns visits with the daughter and wife of a Bangalore, India, Baptist pastor.
  • News Photo 295
    Karns' mission team operated a temporary medical clinic in this Bangalore neighborhood.
May 7, 2002

by Judy Long

More than ten thousand miles separate the Louise Herrington School of Nursing from the Baptist hospital in Bangalore, India.

But through modern technology -- and on-site medical missions -- Baylor University student nurses and Bangalore nursing faculty will learn more about offering care to the most impoverished citizens of the tropical Indian city, said Nursing Dean Phyllis Karns.

Karns will extend her Baylor legacy to the farther reaches of the Asian continent as she prepares to end her 15-year tenure as dean of the School of Nursing on June 30. Dr. Judy Wright Lott, associate professor of nursing, will serve as acting dean, effective June 15, as the search for Karns' permanent successor gets under way.

Last November, Karns joined a Baptist medical mission team that operated temporary clinics in Bangalore, the state capital of Karnataka, located about 1,100 miles south of New Delhi and 1,000 miles southwest of Calcutta. The city lies on the coast of the Arabian Sea.

Karns' group, sponsored by First Baptist Church of Dallas, was invited to Bangalore by a group of Indian pastors and by Dr. Rebecca Naylor, a Baptist missionary and administrator of the Bangalore Baptist Hospital, which trains nurses and serves the city's population. The pastors selected 16 impoverished areas for the medical team to visit. They broke up into three groups and rotated through the sites to reach as many people as possible during their stay.

Karns reported seeing quite a few cases of tuberculosis, but mostly they treated typical illnesses -- upper respiratory infections and colds, some cardiac problems and a lot of aches and pains.

"The people were very hard working. We saw people everywhere engaged in the sort of strenuous work that causes muscle pain," she said. "We gave out a lot of Advil."

Baylor Ties Formed with Bangalore Hospital

While in Bangalore, Karns delivered faculty lectures at the hospital. She and Naylor also initiated plans to set up distance continuing education courses for the Bangalore nursing faculty through the Louise Herrington School of Nursing. Although the Bangalore hospital has only one computer, the opportunity for continuing education in cooperation with Baylor was welcomed, Karns said.

"I was very impressed with the hospital," the dean said. "The nursing students were very enthusiastic and hard working. In addition to their nursing curriculum, students have to master English since all the courses are taught in English, and they have to learn the local language to get around in Bangalore."

Karns added that the states in India all have their own distinct language, and the students at the hospital come from all over the country.

As part of their training, the Indian student nurses go out to villages to offer medical care in primitive surroundings. To give Baylor student nurses the same learning opportunity, Karns is arranging for an elective course to be offered in Bangalore.

"Our students would learn a lot by going to these villages and practicing their nursing without the modern equipment available to them at home," Karns said.

Christians in a Different Culture

Karns reported that Christians were making a difference in people's lives in the coastal city. One of the Indian pastors she met had adopted 26 orphaned children.

"It was so wonderful to see those happy children in the church service with their big brown eyes and sweet faces. Without this pastor's ministry, they would all be living on the streets," she said.

However, Karns was overwhelmed by the extreme poverty she observed in Bangalore.

"Our driver kept asking us, 'How do you like Bangalore? Isn't it a beautiful city?' I couldn't answer because the poverty had so assaulted me that I couldn't see anything else," Karns said. "The poverty was incomprehensible. It seems institutionalized. It is so huge and widespread that it doesn't seem possible to touch it."

The dean spoke of "one of the worst places" - a slum where people lived in shelters constructed with sheets of blue plastic. Open sewage was a common sight, and the villagers shared a single pipe for water, she added.

Encouragement for Karns came through a devotional from My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, given to her by a team member. Chambers said to remember that Christians were not there to meet the needs of the people but to take Christ to them.

"It was a good thought for me," Karns said. "We were able to meet some needs, but they were met just for the moment -- there was no way to meet all the needs of the people. The need was too great, so Chambers' insight was a comforting thought for me."

Karns said that a tentative return trip to Bangalore with a group of school of nursing faculty is planned for summer 2003.

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