Among the file cabinets and paperwork in Barbara Demman’s office, a row of five colorful Tibetan prayer flags are strung across the white wall over her desk.
The prayer flags, which she brought back from a recent trip to the Himalayas, are traditionally hung over mountain peaks because people in the region believe the wind blows the prayers and intentions across the land.
“My intention is that everyone who passes through this office is at peace,” said Demman, looking up at the flags. “And that when they come here, it is at the right place and time in their lives.”
The delicate cloth flags are an example of the spirituality and global experiences of Demman, a nurse and lecturer at UCLA’s School of Nursing. In addition to teaching at the School of Nursing, Demman has taught nurses in the Dominican Republic, Hong Kong and the Philippines.
Through a nonprofit organization called Project HOPE, or Project Health Opportunities for People Everywhere, Demman is leaving today to educate nurses on musculoskeletal emergencies at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Ghana.
She will be the fifth nurse to teach in Ghana through the program.
The three-week trip is conducted in conjunction with the Ghana Emergency Medicine Collaborative, an effort to improve emergency medical care through the education and training of Ghanaian physicians, said Matthew Peterson, senior manager of volunteer operations at Project HOPE.
A similar program for nurses was implemented after the initial effort for physicians because of training disparities between the doctors and nurses at the teaching hospital, he added.
Marc Harris, a former administrative officer for the United Nations Mission in Liberia, said Ghanian nurses were not as updated on medical practices as doctors, leading to a decrease in the quality of care for patients.
Although the nurses have the most patient contact, they were not able to collaborate well with the physicians, he added.
Demman will spend three days a week in the emergency room and two days lecturing at the teaching hospital, focusing on musculoskeletal emergencies and vehicular accidents.
“Education is the best way to start improving medical care (in Ghana),” Harris said. “Exchange programs like these are a great way to go about it.”
Demman had previously submitted her curriculum vitae to Project HOPE’s database, and was chosen for the program after an intensive selection process.
She earned her bachelor of science in nursing in 1998 from the University of San Francisco and a master of science in nursing at UCLA in 2008. In addition to her career as a nurse and lecturer at UCLA, Demman tries to take every fall quarter off to travel, both for personal reasons and to gain nursing experience.
She said she still has more to learn.
“There’s something different to be gained from each culture,” Demman said. “I only hope I can bring it back and use it to help others and empower nursing.”
Jane Tokunow, director of prelicensure clinical program at the UCLA School of Nursing, taught alongside Demman during a nursing trip to Hong Kong. She said Demman genuinely seeks to immerse herself in the culture of the places she travels.
To show their respect for her nursing knowledge, Demman’s students even created a Facebook page titled “What Would Barbara Demman Do?” where they posted nursing questions and experiences.
“She knows so much about medicine, but she’s still so human. We really feel that,” said Kristen Mae Soegeng, a fourth-year nursing student. “I wish I could be half the nurse she is.”
For Demman, her travels are a means of intermingling adventure and career experience.
“Why are people called to do this type of work?” Demman said.
“From a personal perspective, maybe it’s for the adventure. And from a career perspective, it’s to gain more experience. But most importantly, I believe that you empower yourself when you empower someone else.”