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Nurse of the Week Nicole Smit has a favorite motto: “To make a difference in this world, you don’t have to be brilliant, rich or perfect, you just have to care.”

Smit, a 28-year-old RN from New Zealand, has so far made three volunteer trips to Uganda to care for patients in settings ranging from the slums of Kampala, the national capital, to remote villages in outlying rural areas. In the course of her visits, she has helped to build a village medical center, provided testing for HIV and malaria—serving 100 patients over the course of a few hours—and has worked with a charity specializing in wound care for children living on the streets. “What I do here is certainly very different to what I do when working in a hospital in a first-world country,” she remarks.

After spending three years as an RN at home in New Zealand, Smit volunteered for her first trip to Uganda in 2017. From the start, her journey impressed upon her the vast gulf between healthcare in developing countries and first-world countries like New Zealand and Australia. “There are many prevalent health problems here that I had never dealt with at home…” She fell in love with Uganda, though, and has returned each year between stints working for a nursing agency in Australia.

Smit made it back to New Zealand just before lockdown took effect, but her experience has left her deeply concerned about the vulnerability of Uganda in the face of the pandemic. “I think if there were to be a massive outbreak like there has been around the world, I think they would definitely struggle.” In addition to suffering from overpopulation, she notes, people living in villages and rural regions in the country are endangered by their lack of access to reliable information. Smit comments, “I am sure some of those people may not even know what is happening. They are quite isolated and there is no social media or television.”

Her commitment to healthcare in Uganda has led to recognition from Smit’s alma mater, which awarded her their first Villa Maria Past Pupil’s Association Mercy Grant, and in 2019 Zonta International included her among their 100 Women of Achievement.

“These two privileges mean so much to me because my dream is that I might inspire even one person to make their small mark on the world, which in turn could mean the absolute world to one person.”

For more details on Nicole Smit, see these Otago Daily Times stories from March and April.

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