An enhanced awareness of the global community is a lesson best taught outside of the classroom at the UW School of Nursing.
Using money from unrestricted, private gifts given to the School of Nursing, the Dean’s Club Special Scholars program has helped to send more than 50 students around the world to work in areas where the culture is unlike their own.
Nursing students submit proposals in topics such as populations with restricted access to health care services or cross-cultural understanding. Upon acceptance, students may receive, in addition to school credit, up to $750 to pursue study in North America or up to $1,200 for international study.
The dean of the School of Nursing, Sue Hegyvary, said before the program’s inception in the late 1980s, she discovered students working in countries with under-served populations without pay or school credit. “They did it because it was something they believed in.” Hegyvary herself went to Ghana to work at a bush hospital during her junior year in nursing school, after which she said she never saw the world in the same way. She feels that all students should experience something similarly extraordinary, and this is one of her reasons behind starting the club.
Hegyvary said she’s noticed the students change after going abroad. “They find the difference between being ‘conceptual’ and being ‘real.’ Being conceptual is that we think we understand and appreciate people of different backgrounds. Being real is knowing how it meant and how it feels when you become the minority, trying to learn how to live, to work and to survive by someone else’s rules.”
Jessica Goldman, a senior nursing student specializing in pediatric nursing, worked in a hospital in Haifa, Israel this past summer. After learning of the program during Autumn Quarter, Goldman felt it was a way to help fulfill her goal of going to Israel. “It totally applied to what I was doing.”
Initially during her stay, Goldman said she was treated like an observer, rather than as an employee. But by the last few weeks of her traineeship, she became comfortable answering patients requests, such as giving them soap or water, and alerting nurses if patients were in pain.
Although the hospital was concerned that she was not fluent in Hebrew and might not be able to fully communicate to the patients, Goldman noticed there already was a language barrier between patients and hospital staff. “In Haifa, fifty percent speak Hebrew and fifty percent speak Arabic. Most of the nurses only knew Hebrew and that was a major problem. We had to use other patients or family members as translators. We couldn’t do a thorough assessment.”
Goldman said that although pediatric nursing is not different between Israel and America, the whole health care system and attitudes about health are. Because Israel has a socialized medicine system, she found the attitude among many health care workers is that “they were doing the patients a favor, and not treating them as consumers.”
In addition, she said the cultural aspect in the Middle East is very different. “The people’s attitudes is that their lives are risky and dangerous already, so they live it up. People in Israel have this attitude when given (health care precautions) that they can’t be bothered. They feel they need to live their lives. A lot of people smoke and don’t respond to prevention mechanisms.”
Overall, she feels the experience was quite rewarding because she received training in her field and visited a land where ties to far- removed family exist. However, she said she appreciates her lifestyle in the US more despite the greater intensity of everyday life in Israel. “In the past year, there were a lot of terrorist attacks on buses. It is a war- torn society,” she said. She further explained she didn’t feel comfortable knowing that as an Israeli resident, neighboring Arab countries did not want her there.
Judy Blochowiak, another senior nursing student, joined the Dean’s Club Special Scholars to pursue her specialty, international nursing. She went to Chugchillan, Ecuador this summer where 65 percent of the population speak the indigenous Quichua language.
Similarly to Goldman, her experiences were very intense. She told of how a woman gave birth in the reception area of the doctor’s office. “A woman told us she was having a hard time giving birth. Five minutes later, her water broke and a baby dropped on the floor.” She mentioned that none of the tests administered for a newborn in an American hospital were done, rather the baby was just cleaned up.
In addition, her first immunization in Ecuador was done in a cow field. “We announced in Spanish to bring kids and anyone else who was sick here, and that they would be given free vitamins and shots. We didn’t have gloves, just cotton balls soaked in alcohol,” Blochowiak said.
Accordingly, Blochowiak had to overcome not having the usual medical amenities. No hot water, no sheets for patients’ beds nor paper towels were available. “In Ecuador, the stethoscope was held together by some paper tape I had brought from the US, and the blood pressure cuff was missing,” she said.
Nonetheless, Blochowiak said she did not experience culture shock, rather a homecoming. “I feel like I’m back home when I go there. I have a foot in Latin America and a foot here. When returning to the US, my friends said I came back , but that I was still in Ecuador.”
She hopes that after graduation this June, she will go back to Ecuador. She plans to apply for a job in the Ecuadorian ministry of health, for which it is mandatory to work in a rural area for a year. “The experiences add perspective to a nursing career. I learned about the inequality of what people have access to,” Blochowiak said.
Note: Grace Shim is a Diversity News Intern in the Office of News and Information, under a program supported by the Ford Foundation. <!—at end of each paragraph insert