By: Allison Fluker
The first inter-professional study abroad team from the College of Health Professions traveled to Nicaragua in January to provide healthcare in rural villages.
The 34-member team consisted of students and faculty from the nursing, clinical lab science and respiratory care programs, along with the School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s Global News Team.
The health professions students, in partnership with International Service Learning, hosted three days of free medical clinics in local villages near Masaya, Nicaragua. An average of 45 patients were seen each day at the clinics; in addition, the students cared for elderly residents in a local nursing home.
Marylyn Kajs-Wyllie, a professor in the St. David’s School of Nursing, went to Nicaragua with the 2016 study abroad program which was joined by a group of mass communication students.
“Since there was a mass communication team tagging along with the nursing students, there was an idea to push for an inter-professional team,” said Kajs-Wyllie.
At the time, the College of Health Professions was pushing for collaboration between its programs. An inter-professional experience abroad would provide students with a community in a work environment.
But first, Kajs-Wyllie needed to find faculty members and their students who would agree to join her on the 2017 trip. She contacted Gregg Marshall, the chair of respiratory care at Texas State University, who put her in touch with other faculty, such as Sharon Armstead, a clinical assistant professor in the respiratory care department.
“Marylyn reached out to me via email to ask if I was interested in joining nursing on the trip,” said Armstead.
During a College of Health Professions graduation ceremony, Kajs-Wyllie asked Armstead to go on the trip and Armstead agreed.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity for the therapists to go,” said Armstead.
Meanwhile, a clinical assistant professor in the clinical lab science program contacted the chair of the nursing school to see if there were opportunities for her students to work with other professions.
“I serve on the inter-professional education committee and the study abroad committee,” said Joanna Ellis. “I wanted (the clinical lab science students) to have respect for the other roles. If we learn from each other and health care together, we will impact healthcare results in the future.”
With the addition of Ellis and Armstead and the mass communication students, Kajs-Wyllie assembled her 34-member team.
Expectations and Worries
The first inter-professional health professions study abroad team came with a lot of pressure and expectations.
“I wanted the nursing students to learn focused assessments, the culture, Spanish, to appreciate the differences in nursing and the differences between what we’re used to with what they have,” said Kajs-Wyllie.
Students from the nursing school practiced focused assessments during the medical clinics in rural villages.
“It gives you a lot of confidence,” said Desiree Davis, a senior in the nursing program. “Once you start asking questions, you learn what other questions you need to ask about the information for the problem the patient is having.”
Every faculty member on the team had their own expectations for the trip, as well as expectations for the entire group.
“I wanted (the clinical lab sciences students) to get a mutual respect,” said Ellis. “If we were able to go to the labs at the hospitals, we could talk about the labs in the group debriefings and show (the other departments) that we are taught a very different skill. We have a lot to offer and wanted to show them that.”
In Nicaragua, healthcare specialties such as clinical lab science or respiratory care, do not exist like they do in the United States.
“They don’t have us as a profession where we were going,” said Armstead.
Without resources for the level of education required to provide specialty care in Nicaragua, there are not many doctors who can provide the care that Armstead, Ellis and their students gave.
While some professors worried about limitations in their ability to apply their knowledge and skills, others worried about how their presence would effect the lives of the residents in the communities they visited.
“I was worried about our impact on the culture and the community here whether it would be positive or not,” said Ellis. “I was worried about the emotions that would ensue during the home visits and the nursing home.”
After seeing how well the 2017 team of students worked together, the faculty members recognized many benefits of having an inter-professional team.
Students utilized their acquired skills and applied them to caring for patients. That strengthened their ability to provide healthcare and perform focused assessments. By working with other health disciplines, the students understood what the other health professional’s job entails.
“They will communicate better and have an understanding of what the nursing students have gone through,” said Ellis. “They will have a reference for what the other professionals have gone through.”
Gaining an understanding of what other healthcare professionals go through in their daily routine is paramount to making a better workplace environment.
“I had that moment where I knew I was making a difference in someone’s life,” said Davis. “You’re able to sit down with the doctor and tell them what’s going on with the patient and give your own assessment. You start to see the same illnesses and know the right questions.”
After hands-on experience and interacting with local physicians, the students were no longer timid about performing the healthcare skills needed to provide care.
“(Students) said that their confidence levels jumped,” said Armstead. “They feel comfortable approaching physicians. What we try to teach them, they already feel empowered to do it.”
Students were immersed into a new culture and learned differences in the healthcare between the United States and Nicaragua.
“It has prepared them for a multicultural world and encouraged them to give back or take part in a study abroad,” said Armstead. “Learning to learn Spanish will help better the care we can give them.”
Adjusting to a new environment didn’t keep the inter-professional students from accomplishing what their faculty wanted for them.
“I thought it was cute to see everyone working together,” said Armstead. “There was one time when a group of (clinical lab science) students sat together and I mentioned they weren’t mingling, but by the end of the week, you couldn’t tell who was in what department.”