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Meet the respiratory therapy students that became the educators

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By: Taeler Kallmerten

Bubbly, free-spirited and stubborn are three words to describe the women of the respiratory therapy team from Texas State University.

Two respiratory therapy students, accompanied by their faculty, were a part of Texas State University’s first inter-professional study abroad program in Nicaragua.

Initially, the respiratory therapy team was not going, but clinical assistant professor Sharon Armstead and her two senior students Veronica Richardson and Amber Hazelett readily accepted the invitation from the trip’s lead faculty member, Marylyn Kajs-Wyllie. 

There are few countries that have a specialized role for respiratory care and Nicaragua is not one of them. Like the majority of the world, Nicaragua’s respiratory care is practiced by standard physicians and nurses.

This was a challenge for Armstead, Richardson and Hazelett. Instead of spending most of their time in the community clinics, Armstead and her team focused on giving seminars about respiratory care in local public hospitals.

As Armstead set up her MacBook to give a seminar, 12 nurses wearing white uniforms sat watching intently. The seminar took place in the cafeteria of the hospital and many employees passing by joined the lecture as they ate their breakfast. Richardson and Hazelett passed out brochures amongst the nurses, so they could follow along in the demonstration.

“I love to educate as I go,” said Armstead. “Not only do we learn from the community, but they learn from what we offer in education.” 

Through one seminar Armstead said she completely changed the way one hospital gave a nebulizer treatment.

“They were giving the nebulizer treatment without a mask or a mouth piece and the neb was just going out into the air,” said Armstead. “Until we showed them the proper way to use a nebulizer, they did not know.”

After educating healthcare providers in the hospital for two days, Armstead said it is important to recognize the hospitals are not wrong in their methods of respiratory care, but they are just different. 

Nicaragua respiratory isuues
Infographic of respiratory issues in Nicaragua. Graphic by Monica Grice.  

The work is personal

The irony of the respiratory therapy team is that all three women have asthma themselves.

Hazelett, a respiratory therapy major, said her asthma gives her the ability to empathize with her patients because she knows their pain firsthand.

“Growing up sometimes people would tell me, ‘there’s not actually something wrong with you,’ or ‘no, you can breathe just relax,’” said Hazelett. “I know that these people really cannot breathe.”

Hazelett said she understands that those who do not have asthma sometimes think asthmatics are making up their medical condition.

“Just because it can’t be seen on the outside doesn’t mean it’s not going on on the inside,” she said.

The first day outside of the hotel in Nicaragua required long hikes to get from home to home and Richardson constantly checked on Armstead’s breathing and reminded her to use her inhaler.

The family dynamic of taking care of each other was the anchor that held the respiratory therapy team together.

Richardson said having Armstead as a professor has made her more confident in her abilities as a respiratory therapist.

Richardson said she had an intense discussion with a doctor in Nicaragua about whether a patient’s lung problems were asthma related.

“I did a full chest assessment and I was right that there was something wrong with the patient’s lungs,” said Richardson. “In my mind, there was that split moment where I thought what if I’m wrong; then my confidence came back and I was like I know I’m right.”

As Richardson explained how Armstead’s teaching has impacted her, Armstead, who was sitting next to her, began crying, but with a smile on her face.

“I wanted them to see that in these countries, they don’t have RT, but what we can do is to promote our profession and to educate,” said Armstead.

Richardson and Hazelett will graduate in May. While Richardson has just finished her internship in the neonatal intensive care unit at St. David’s North, Hazelett has begun her night shifts at her internship. Richardson plans to eventually practice respiratory therapy abroad and Hazelett plans to get her masters degree and eventually teach at her alma mater, Texas State University. 

Journalism in the Jungle

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By: Taeler Kallmerten

In January 2017, five students were chosen from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Texas State University by journalism professor, Holly Wise, to take part in the Global News Team’s second trip to Nicaragua.

The Global News Team is a study abroad program created in 2015 that embeds mass communication students with international service learning teams.

This year’s Global News Team embedded with 28 students and faculty from the College of Health Professions on their service learning trip to Nicaragua where they assessed and treated patients in rural villages.

The 2017 inter-professional teams consisted of three medical professions –  nursing, respiratory therapy and clinical laboratory science.

Preparation

“Flying in the first thing I noticed was the terrain. It was so mountainous and I could see numerous volcanos from the plane.” – From the daily reflections of Global News Team contributor, Taeler Kallmerten (TK)

Prior to their January departure, the Global News Team met three times in November and December to brainstorm story ideas and their travel itinerary.

Exsar Arguello, a senior journalism, said he researched the country’s health care and culture before leaving.

“I think it’s good to have a general understanding of the place you’re going to, but as an industry where everything changes so fast you live by experience,” he said.

Websites like Reporters Without Borders and World Health Organization provided the team with a better understanding of Nicaragua.

According to RWB, Nicaragua’s constitution allows the government to censor and restrain the press. The country is ranked 75th among 180 nations in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index. In comparison, the United States is ranked 45th and Nicaragua’s neighbor Costa Rica is ranked number six.

Two flights and a school bus ride later the team arrived at Hotel El Raizon on Jan. 2. The Global News Team assembled and began preparation for the busy on-site days.

On-Site

“I overheard that Ivan, our translator, telling Jessica that in order to keep his English skills up for translating he watches Judge Judy and the People’s Court.”    -TK

The first day outside of the hotel, the teams were split into groups and sent off in different directions in the rural communities of Nicaragua.

The goal of the health professions team that day was to log information about the living conditions of the community members in the area. The health teams asked community members questions about their health while the Global News Team took notes and began looking for potential story subjects.

Monica Grice, a journalism major, said she didn’t really know where to start.

“I started taking pictures and videos not really knowing what to capture,” said Grice.  “Eventually you just kind of mold yourself into the environment and then you know what to look for as far as documenting goes.”

For the majority of the first day, the Global News Team was busy observing people, places and things.

Darcy Sprague, a journalism major, said she focused her attention on Jennifer Pemp and Andrew Pagel, a nursing student and clinical lab science student she noticed on the plane.

“I was really just observing them and taking notes about what they were doing,” said Sprague. “I didn’t ask them any questions, but for the rest of my stories I was just trying to be present in the moment and decide what would be possible.”

The Global News Team members split up into three groups and traveled with the health professions students to report on their work.

Sprague said the timing of the work amongst the health professions teams and the Global News Team was the most difficult part about producing the stories.

“It seemed like when they were working, we were off and when they were off we were working,” said Sprague. “It was also constant work even when you were sitting around you would see the person you wanted to interview and you would be thinking about questions.”

Despite the time spent observing and staying in the background, the Global News Team interacted with community members and helped the health professionals whenever possible.

When the teams traveled to a nursing home in Nicaragua, only one Global News Team member planned to create a multimedia project. The four remaining students washed dishes, sorted through moldy fruit and helped residents into their rooms.

Team Dynamic

“We walked into our room and turned on the lights and boom scorpion on the floor. Darcy screamed, I ran out of the room, but Monica flipped out. She screamed not knowing exactly what she was screaming at but that we were screaming and she should too. It was the greatest thing I experienced in Nicaragua.” -TK

The time spent working together bonded the group and at the end of long days the Global News Team would stay up and talk about their day amongst each other before having to wake up at sunrise and do it all over again.

Ally Fluker, a digital media innovation student, said it was this time together that bonded the Global News Team.

“That kind of environment strengthened our ability to work together and it wasn’t weird and there wasn’t any hostility toward each other,” said Fluker.

Fluker said the time constraint made the trip intense and immersive.

“This showed us what it’s like to be a real life journalist to get in what you need when you need it in a time constraint,” said Fluker. “Whereas if you’re on campus for a whole semester you have more time and you have a professor spoon feeding you. We were there and Holly was like ‘OK, go.’”

Overall the Global News Team produced over 30 pieces of multimedia content and written stories and were co-recipients of the Texas State University Quarterly Team Award.

 

 

 

7 things I learned after following Texas State health professional students for 10 days

By: Taeler Kallmerten

As I followed and observed 18 nursing students, two respiratory therapy students, and four clinical laboratory sciences students in a span of 10 days, I learned many medical and non-medical things that will stay with me throughout my life.

  1. I learned not to confuse different occupations within the field of health professionals. For instance, a respiratory therapist is not a nurse and vice versa, and they will let you know that. I am speaking from personal experience. Since the group I was following consisted of 24 students with three different occupations, I had to learn everyone’s specialty before I learned everyone’s name.
  2. I learned that allergies to animals like chickens and cats can be linked to asthma. During our first outing in Nicaragua I followed four students and respiratory therapy faculty Sharon Armstead through the homes of the neighborhoods we were surveying. Armstead said that the chickens and cats roam inside and around the homes. She explained that this can cause asthma and also be a trigger for asthmatics.
  3. I learned there is a vast amount of asthma triggers including smoke from burning wood and trash, pets, pollution and physical exercise. However, the trigger that struck me most is that asthma can be emotionally triggered.
  4. I learned how to ask if someone has lung problems in Spanish. Hacer usted tienes el pulmón el problema?
  5. I learned that Nicaragua and a lot of other countries do not have respiratory therapists. It is a common practice that respiratory care is performed by a standard physician.
  6. I learned how to properly put together and use an inhaler. The respiratory therapy team gave seminars in a Nicaraguan Hospital to show nurses how to use the tool properly.
  7. I learned that health professionals are the most caring and patient individuals. I watched nursing student Drew calm a child down so he could listen to her heart. I watched nursing student Ciera struggle with sending a patient home in a condition that no clinic in the U.S. would have. I watched respiratory care student Veronica argue with a doctor about a diagnosis that she was ultimately correct on. I watched these amazing people in action, and I respect each and every one of them for what they did in Nicaragua and what they will continue to do for the remainder of their careers.