CAMDEN — Students at the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden are going global with their healthcare education.
Having access to basic healthcare services is of vital importance to people living in all parts of the world. To truly understand the healthcare needs of other cultures, Rutgers–Camden nursing students are participating in service learning opportunities that are taking them to Brazil, Guatemala, and South Africa.
“In the nursing community, we work with many different kinds of people from around the world,” says Kevin Emmons, a clinical assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden. “Healthcare is global. It’s important for nurses to understand different cultures and different areas of care. That’s what makes nursing holistic.”
For the third year in a row, Emmons and Rutgers–Camden Nursing Dean Joanne Robinson are leading a group of 30 students to Guatemala, where they will educate people of underserved communities on the importance of personal healthcare, diet and nutrition.
“In many of these areas, there are no grocery stores or fresh markets, so we work to teach the people there about nutrition, we perform blood pressure screenings, test for diabetes, and work with the communities to improve basic public health,” Emmons says.
Stephen Anagnostos, a senior Rutgers–Camden nursing student from Delran traveling to Guatemala again this year, says he was surprised to learn that many people there have limited access to healthcare and lack knowledge of common healthcare practices.
“Many of the prevention measures we take in the U.S. are not commonly known there,” Anagnostos says. “For example, when we did screenings for hypertension and diabetes, most of the locals we encountered didn’t know the risks, dangers, or preventive factors for either health conditions.”
Anagnostos continues, “In Guatemala, barriers already exist in hindering health education to prevent specific illnesses. This makes it even harder to provide screenings and treatments, which would normally lead to long term follow-up care.”
The Rutgers–Camden clinics seem to be making an impact, at least for a small portion of the population. Emmons says Guatemalan women have come to the Rutgers–Camden health fairs from miles away to receive basic care and information.
The Rutgers–Camden contingent is also partnering with the Highland Support Project, a non-governmental organization that seeks to foster empowerment and increase productivity of indigenous people in the Western Highlands of Guatemala.
This year, the students are helping to build stoves in Guatemalan homes to ensure that residents can safely cook their meals. Cooking on open flames in small spaces can cause smoky conditions that lead to respiratory problems.
Guatemala isn’t the only country where Rutgers–Camden nursing students are making a difference through service learning initiatives.
Another March trip is taking students to South Africa, where they also learn how to reach out to people to provide culturally sensitive care. The experience allows the nursing students to become better equipped to care for diverse populations with a wide range of healthcare needs.
Nancy Powell, a visiting assistant clinical professor of nursing and director of Rutgers–Camden’s RN-to-BSN program, is accompanying 17 students to South African cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg over spring break.
“This trip broadens the students’ understanding of different cultures,” Powell says. “The experience helps them understand that while people of all cultures are different, they all have the same health goals and they require care.”
In addition to educating women of underserved communities in South Africa about HIV care and prevention, the nursing students are donating clothing and medical supplies to hospitals and orphanages there.
Last year, the students brought with them a collection of text books so the hospitals could start a nursing library.
“This year, we plan to spend an entire day in a hospital so the students can see the healthcare challenges nurses and their patients face there,” Powell says.
In May, after the conclusion of Rutgers–Camden’s spring semester, a group of 12 nursing students are accompanying students from the Rutgers School of Business–Camden to Brazil. The students will share in their cultural experiences in the South American country, but have different service learning components.
“One of the most important aspects of service learning is to have the students go out and learn about health disparities, access to medical care, and management of chronic illnesses,” says Susan Norris, an assistant professor of nursing at Rutgers–Camden who will lead the Brazil trip. “Service learning allows them to be involved with communities and assess and address the needs of those communities. In Brazil, there are large social disparities where there are some people who have access to better healthcare, but others who do not have those resources.”
This year’s trip to Brazil is a pilot program for the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden and Norris hopes to offer it as a full service learning course in the spring of 2014.
Course goals include expanding student knowledge and understanding of global health, evaluating Brazil’s universal health care system, developing research and critical thinking skills, and engaging with healthcare partners and the community through service learning.
During each trip, Rutgers–Camden’s nursing faculty want the students to understand how people in these countries cope with disease with few resources.
“We want to give them the tools to help them improve healthcare. Service learning experiences are life changing for the students and for the people we help,” Norris says.