Nursing Students Gain Global Health Perspective During Learning Abroad Trips

It isn’t easy to put into words the living conditions for the many people living in poor, underserved countries around the world. It’s something you simply have to see.

“You don’t realize how much we have — and waste — until you get someplace where the people have nothing,” says Alyssa Alberto, a senior student in the accelerated bachelor’s degree program at the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden.

“These people barely have shoes and food.”

Rutgers–Camden nursing students studies abroad in Haiti and Jamaica. Photo provided by Taylor Barger.

Rutgers–Camden nursing students studies abroad in Haiti and Jamaica. Photo provided by Taylor Barger.

Alberto is one of a number of Rutgers University–Camden nursing students who went to Haiti during a spring break learning abroad trip in March. Another group of nursing students spent the week in Jamaica. The two trips are designed as a community health clinical immersion experience to enhance the students’ understanding and appreciation of the healthcare needs of people from cultures in different parts of the world.

“A current focus on healthcare and nursing is in caring for populations of patients, not just care for individuals,” says Renee Cantwell, an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden and director of its accelerated bachelor of science in nursing program.

“A global community health experience serves many purposes,” Cantwell says. “It strengthens the concepts of population and global health, and it provides service learning for a community of individuals with diverse needs. In the two countries that our students experienced, they could see first-hand the differences in healthcare when compared to our own system.”

In Haiti, Alberto says the students provided vaccinations and set up mobile clinics to help patients who could not get to a doctor or hospital for care. They also helped malnourished children get the food and nutrients they needed through a nutrition program, and set up medical records for children in local schools.

Taylor Barger, a senior Rutgers–Camden nursing student from Sicklerville, was among a group of students who traveled to Jamaica for the spring break learning abroad program. The students sponsored a health fair for older adults in one community, and educated patients on self and preventative care, including how to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

“As I spent more time with the residents, I learned to connect with individuals in ways different than I’m used to,” Barger says. “It was a very eye-opening experience and brought attention to something I have certainly always taken for granted: communication.”

Barger continues, “Our classes have educated us on vulnerable populations and how to provide care to individuals in need.  The trip to Jamaica was an extension of the education and experience we have received and allows for an experience with an underserved population at a global level.”

Cantwell says these global experiences help student nurses enhance their professional development.

“The students learn to provide and manage care for underserved populations who have very limited resources in diverse settings, concepts which can be applied to many areas here in the United States,” she says. “As most students report when they participate in these experiences, it’s life changing.”

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