School of Nursing

Nursing students benefit from international learning opportunities

Sep 30, 2010

Sometimes teaching nursing students how to eliminate barriers when caring for the medically underserved, particularly when patients are from culturally diverse populations, can be a challenge for faculty.

One way the University of Kansas School of Nursing helps facilitate cultural awareness for students is to provide international clinical electives.

Vicki Hicks, RN, MSN, clinical assistant professor, began integrating international experiences into the senior practicum course four years ago. In the last two years, she has offered a four-week February experience as a portion of the 13-week senior practicum.

“Cultural competence and diversity in the nursing curriculum is very important,” Hicks said. “As we move toward a more global society, it is important to shift education and practice to reflect trans-cultural and international knowledge and competencies.”

In 2009, the KU School of Nursing sent 3 students go to the Dominican Republic; 10 to Malawi, Africa; and 10 to Mexico. This year, 10 students went to Honduras, 10 to Mexico and 3 to the Dominican Republic.

“Nursing research has demonstrated that integrating short term trans-cultural experiences into the nursing curriculum can provide valuable learning opportunities as well as personal and professional growth,” Hicks said. “We have found that it is very beneficial to offer and provide opportunities for cultural immersion experiences. Our students experience an increase in cultural competency learning and develop personal and professional skills beneficial in their cognitive and career development.”

Dominican Republic Medical Missions Group May 20-27, 2010.
The students' responses to international opportunities have been overwhelmingly positive, according to Hicks.

“Many personal skills are enhanced such as compassion, humbleness, patience, inner peace and an incredible respect and appreciation for their lifestyle and opportunities,” Hicks said. “Students state that they have learned more about culturally competent care than they had ever expected and have developed sensitivity to being a minority, the skill and desire to look from the patient's perspective, and the confidence to make a difference in the lives of others.”

In addition to interacting with people from other cultures, students are able to learn from other medical volunteers. For a number of years, Hicks has partnered with the Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kan., to have a group of three senior nursing students join the March medical mission team. They help deliver primary health care to the Haitian sugar cane cutters and their families in the plantation villages near La Romana in the Dominican Republic.

Dr. Antoni “Toni” Diehl, MD, Lenexa, Kan., who has made two trips each year to the Dominican Republic since 1994, said the students are always enthusiastic and eager to learn from their team members. The nurses and students are not only exposed to people who speak a different language, but interact with people who live in the most impoverished conditions in the Western Hemisphere.

“The cultural experiences will never be forgotten and ‘plants a seed' leading to the importance that all of us in the medical profession should always be giving back to those less fortunate. The students are forever thankful for the experience and helps them to be excellent nurses,” Diehl said.

The Dominican Republic trip is one of three destinations that are offered for an immersion experience as part of the KU School of Nursing's international elective course, International Health Care: A Clinical Experience.
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