Barbados Nursing Exchange Program Begun This Spring

Posted: May 4, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Lynn Burke

A long-running winter break program that takes George Mason nursing students to Barbados has given rise to a true international technical exchange program with the arrival of Joan Finch, RN, an infection control nurse from the small Caribbean island.

For the past seven years, students from the College of Nursing and Health Science (CNHS) have spent two to three weeks in an immersion experience working in Barbadian polyclinics. The experience fulfills the students’ community health course requirement for their senior year. CNHS Assistant Professor Loretta Normile, who leads the trip each year, says that for this past trip, close to 30 students applied for the six slots.

“It hasn’t been a true exchange because while we’ve been going with our students, Barbadian nurses have not had the opportunity to visit George Mason,” says Normile. “But this year, working with the chief nursing officer of Barbados, we were able to plan and implement an exciting program that will allow Barbadian nurses to experience firsthand American culture while increasing proficiency in specialized areas of nursing. We plan to have four to six more Barbadian nurses coming to the United States for specialized nursing training within the next year.”

Mason’s Barbados winter break program began in 1997 through the efforts of former CNHS Dean Rita McCarty, who is secretary-general of the Global Network of World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centres for Nursing and Midwifery Development and heads George Mason’s WHO Collaborating Centre. Mason nursing students also travel to Nicaragua and Smith Island, Md., for community clinical experiences over winter break.

“Our program allows students to learn about public health in a place where they don’t have a lot of resources for health care,” says Normile. “They learn to do more with less. In Barbados, Mason students also learn what it is like to work in a socialized health care system, and in return, they share their ideas and some of their techniques with the nurses there.”

Iquo Andrews, a second-year student who participated in the program this past winter, says the experience gave her a better understanding of the duties of the public health nurse, such as assessing communities, making home visits, tracking patients, and doing environmental assessments. “Working with the nurses–or sisters, as they are called–I learned different ways to approach patients and to read body language, recognize the influence of culture in their unspoken cues, and act appropriately. I also have a deeper appreciation for equipment and material management.”

Normile says that one factor playing into the development of the exchange program is an attempt to ease Barbados’ severe nursing shortage. “The salaries are low, the staffing is poor, and you can’t get promoted there unless it is by seniority,” she says. “Although the situation is changing, still, if you are the brightest and the best that doesn’t mean you get ahead.” Many of the young nurses migrate to the United States, Canada, or Great Britain, among other places, where they can make more money and have better opportunities for promotion, she explains.

Normile says the exchange program will provide an incentive for nurses to stay in Barbados. In return for four weeks of advanced clinical training in the United States, nurses agree to continue to practice nursing in Barbados for a certain amount of time. Another benefit of the exchange is that it recognizes nurses who excel, she adds.

Next year, the program will expand so that more Barbadian nurses can come here for training. Many of the CNHS students have had such positive experiences during their Barbados trips that some have offered their homes when the Barbadian nurses arrive.

“This was a great experience,” says Andrews. “I hope more opportunities arise where student nurses in America have the chance to participate and appreciate nursing in different facets, in different cultures. These nurses really are the blessings in communities where there are so many needs or where the demand outweighs the supply.”

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