Nursing students from IU East stepped outside the campus and into different cultures during three recent real-world journeys.
They immersed themselves into poverty, cultural diversity and community medicine in different areas of the United States.
They presented papers, visited hospital and met with at-risk teenagers in England.
They made eye-opening and life-changing discoveries that aren’t possible without seeing other cultures.
Karen Clark, dean of the School of Nursing, led a trip to Chinle, Ariz., where IU East students administered 1,300 shots and visited historical landmarks. “Students provided the manpower for flu clinics during their time with the Navajo,” Clark said. Cindy Farris, lecturer for the School of Nursing, also facilitated the trip.
The students dealt mainly with children, but they served patients from ages 2 to about 70, some with special needs. “It was a great experience,” Clark said. “A lot of it is very internal … growth as a professional.”
Senior Ashley Hall from Connersville echoed that observation. “The trip not only taught me about other cultures, but about myself as well,” Hall said.
“I can truly say that no clinical experience has ever impacted me the way that Chinle did,” she said.
Other students, traveling with nursing instructor Curtis Bow, made meals for the homeless in Washington, D.C., and interacted with people at the Bowery Soup Kitchen and Shelter of Harlem in New York City. The shelter has 10,000 more clients than there are residents in Wayne County (about 58,000).
Bow also led a visit early this month to England, where 11 students saw how differently medical services are delivered and learned that their studies here can carry international significance.
That trip had significance for the university: It was the first one outside of the United States.
The second is coming this spring, when a group of juniors will head to Belize to receive some real-world experiences in mental-health issues.
“It always is a life-changing experience,” Clark said about the trips.
That was a fact even before her students ever stepped onto the Navajo Reservation: “Four of the eight hadn’t even been on an airplane,” she said.
While in Arizona, the students took time to explore. Students were immersed in the Navajo culture through interaction with native healers, participation in a sweat ceremony, and time in Canyon de Chelly exploring ruins with a native guide.
It’s vital for students — especially those who haven’t ventured very far from the area — to have “opportunities to experience a culture different than their own,” Clark said, one in which they are in the minority. “They can deliver culturally sensitive care and show what community nursing is all about.”
Bow agrees. “They were exposed to so much diversity they can’t see locally,” he said about guiding students on the eight-day trip to Washington, D.C., and New York City.
The students were able to observe that the needy in large metropolitan areas don’t have the access to medical care and the quality of life that is commonplace in east-central Indiana and west-central Ohio.
Students helped pack food and make meal preparations for a central kitchen for the homeless in D.C. They made home visits through Capitol Hill Village, a nonprofit agency that helps senior citizens in a variety of ways — with meals, with rides, with healthcare information and a lot more.
Bow said the experience with the soup kitchen helped disprove stereotypes about some marginalized people. “They are trying their hardest. Many of them are employed. Many have two jobs,” he said. “Yet, they still can’t afford health care and clothes.”
Whatever those people don’t spend on meals, they can spend on other necessities.
The students saw that positive gestures and environments can help build self-confidence.
“Even the smallest amount of kindness can help turn things around,” Bow pointed out.
IU East students have been making trips to Chinle since the late 1990s and the Washington-New York experience was added about five years ago, Clark said.
Bow and his wife, Jennifer Bow, an adjunct instructor for the School of Nursing, accompanied the students to the East Coast and to Great Britain. “I don’t ever get tired of the trips, but they are exhausting,” he said.
The students pay their own way, but financial help is available if needed.
Each trip is different, but they do have commonalities. The overall goal is simply to provide experiences that serve people, provide education, teach about community health and create more well-rounded nurses.
“Part of that is exposure to different cultures and global health,” Clark said. “Some have been landlocked (never traveled that far) … therefore, that focuses their way of thinking.”
One student from past trip was so touched by the experience that she went to work for the Indian Health Service in Alaska after graduating, Clark said.
The trips “give students a sense of social responsibility,” she said, that they can make an impact wherever they work.
The trip to Great Britain showed how health services are handled differently there than in the United States.
For example, Bow said: “Customer service doesn’t resonate as much. The rules and regulations are a lot more dictated by the law,” he said.
Five students discussed their original research project titled “Bringing Sexy Back: sexual activity and the older adult,” on November 7 at the Second Annual Conference on Aging & Society in Manchester. The project data was collected in fall of 2013 in Richmond, when the students were juniors.
The hypotheses, Bow said, is that people are sexually active in their later years. “There were people in the audience who had done similar studies,” he said.
The students were amazed that the 200 attendees represented more than 60 countries. “It wasn’t just nursing; there were economists, lawyers, psychologists and clergymen,” he said.
“A geriatric psychologist from Canada wanted to know what (the students’) thoughts were,” Bow said. “They were enthralled they were talking to a professional who valued their opinions.”
Students also provided health information to groups about hepatitis, hypertension and nutrition and visited a HIV hospital.
They also visited the Florence Nightingale Museum and the Gordon Museum of Pathology.
The students met high-level health-industry workers. They included the president of the nursing trade union, hospital directors and specialists from around the world.
At one meal provided to the students, they were given gifts of watches and items to help them in their nursing careers.
The students discovered new things about transportation as well in England. Bow estimated the students walked 54 miles and they had to figure out how to use mass transit.
Each student brings back something different, Bow said.
“They always have something to say when they come back. They are required to do a reflection on the experience and how they can put in practice what they’ve learned,” he said. “There never are students who say they didn’t learn anything.”
Students who traveled to the Navajo reservation will share their experience at an event scheduled for 3:30 p.m., Tuesday, December 2, in Vivian Auditorium.
Top Photo: Nursing students tour Canyon de Chelly while in Chinle, Ariz.
Bottom Photo: Nursing students support the 100th anniversary of World War I while in England by wearing poppies.