DU Alumni

Alumna works to improve health care resources in Uganda

As part of her work with ACCESS, Shaw returns to Uganda about once a year to coordinate development efforts. Photo courtesy of Erin Shaw

As part of her work with ACCESS, Shaw returns to Uganda about once a year to coordinate development efforts. Photo courtesy of Erin Shaw

It’s no secret that the University of Denver’s study abroad program often has an incredible impact on the lives of participating students. For alumna Erin Shaw, studying abroad was the first step in finding a cause about which she was passionate.

“I studied abroad in Uganda; I went there with the intent to study health care,” says Shaw, a graduate of DU’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. “It was a pretty broad-based program, and while I was there, I found a focus in the human resources shortage in the health care system.”

While studying in Uganda’s Nakeseke district, Shaw began working at the African Community Center for Social Sustainability (ACCESS), a community-based health care center that provides free care, consultation and support to people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, as well as discounted health services to the greater community. Shaw completed research there with the center’s founder, Robert Kalyesubula, on the shortage of qualified health care professionals in Uganda.

After graduating from in 2011, Shaw became director of development for partners for ACCESS, spearheading the organization’s U.S. support network. Though she now lives in Portland, she is in constant communication with ACCESS and returns to Uganda about once a year to coordinate development efforts. Her newest project at ACCESS is the development of a nursing school to train health care workers from surrounding rural areas.

Shaw believes the school is the first step in making Uganda’s health care system more sustainable.

“There’s a huge problem with recruitment and retention, and recruiting students from rural areas encourages the students to go back and practice in rural areas and provide health care in their own communities,” Shaw says. “It’s also a great opportunity for students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to higher education to get an extra level of training, become more employable and make a higher salary than they would otherwise.”

In addition to heading the development of the nursing school, Shaw also coordinates fundraising and program development for the center. She completed nursing school at the Oregon Health and Science University in 2013 in preparation for training the first cohort of nursing students, who will begin their training in January 2016.

Shaw says her DU education has helped her understand the importance of developing sustainable community-based resources.

“My DU education has helped me learn about community development and how health care influences the well-being of an entire society, let alone the individual, and to focus on development from the perspective of the local community,” she says.

Her hope is that ACCESS will continue to train health care workers and eventually become self-reliant enough to phase out support from the United States.

“One thing that has been a focus and is going well at ACCESS is letting go of the idea of charity or humanitarian aid in trying to help ACCESS actualize their goals,” Shaw says. “It’s a new perspective in humanitarian assistance: We are not doing anything that ACCESS wouldn’t do for themselves, but we’re partners in the effort. To me it’s been a really cool paradigm shift, and I think it will contribute to the sustainability of the organization once we’re no longer helping.”

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