Mason Nursing Students Gain International Health Experience

Posted: March 21, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Lori Jennings

A select group of Mason students visited the Caribbean during their winter break, but rather than sunning on the beach, they spent their time working on community health projects in clinics.

Under the guidance and leadership of Mason’s Loretta Normile, assistant professor in the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS), seven undergraduate and graduate nursing students traveled to Barbados for a cultural immersion experience in international nursing and public health issues. The program, which accepts up to 10 students per year, began in 1998.

“This program truly allows for a two-way, symbiotic experience,” says Normile. “Our students are able to gain valuable international health-care experience by working in the health-care system, gathering information in the field and presenting educational workshops for nurses. They are often asked to make recommendations for improving quality of care in a variety of areas.”

Upon arrival, the students immediately got to work by conducting an island health assessment. During their stay, students visited a variety of health-care agencies, looked at processes for environmental health protection and made home visits with Barbados public health nurses.

The Barbados Community College staff served as the students’ liaison to study on the island and also provided an orientation program on the history and culture of the island.

The students spent most of their time working in Barbados’ “polyclinics,” which are “one-stop shops” for public health services, including general medical services and specialized services such as communicable disease clinics, pediatric health care and maternity specialties.

In the past, other experiences during the program have involved health inspections of school cafeterias, cruise ships, meat-packing plants and even the local jail.

Students maintained a daily journal during their stay on the island and participated in a capstone project during the second week. Some examples of Mason student projects include presentations to a group of expectant mothers on how to prevent sudden infant death syndrome and teaching boys and girls in juvenile detention facilities how to protect themselves from HIV.

“Barbados public health officials have been very welcoming and appreciate the help our students are able to provide,” Normile says. “Mason students have the opportunity to witness firsthand how to function effectively with minimal resources compounded by a huge nursing shortage.

“Our goal is to help promote professional nursing, with specialized areas of focus and strong government support for the profession. In return, our students learn so much about how one can provide quality nursing care with so few resources.”

Jeannie Padgett, a graduate student and RN in the CHHS Global and Community Health program, made the trip this year and says, “As a student in international health, this experience forced me to look beyond the surface and realize that you don’t always have to work with the extremely poor to make a significant contribution that improves the overall health of a country’s people.”

To be considered for the program, students must be registered nurses. Students may receive up to three credits for participation. All accepted students receive a scholarship for the cost of the plane fare that comes from the proceeds of the children’s book, “Do You Know a Nurse?” developed by graduate nursing students and Normile.

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