Taking nursing studies to the next level

When Peninsula College began sending students to Costa Rica four years ago to study special topics in tropical biology, the idea of expanding the program to offer more than one course was just that: an idea.

But this past summer, the idea became a reality when the college offered a new course on special topics in global health, designed to expose students and community practitioners to health issues faced by the rural people of Costa Rica.

"Some people from Costa Rica

talked about the need for environ-mental sustainability," said Marca Davies, nursing program director. "Working with the community toward that goal, Bonnie Rathod, a nursing instructor at Peninsula College, and I saw a place for nursing to be a part of that and for our students to have a cross_cultural experience."

The first class in a nutshell

Twelve students took part in the inaugural program Aug. 15-30, including two 2008 graduates from the P.C. nursing program, eight P.C. students and two community professionals: one a nurse from

Port Townsend and another the director of the Bellevue Community College nursing program.

Davies and Rathod served as instructors.

During the two-week period, students were able to gain a broad overview of the relationship between community health and environmental sustainability while participating in a variety of activities and learning opportunities, according to Davies and Rathod.

In some cases, the students were the instructors, teaching basic health care practices including hand washing, disease prevention, dental hygiene, exercise and diet. They also instructed villagers in basic first aid and disease prevention and how to take care of heart attack, stroke, poisoning, burn, wounded and hypertension victims - even emergency childbirth.

At other times, the 12 class

members were the students, learning from their instructors and the village people as they spent time at local health care clinics, spoke with resident health care providers, made home visits to the elderly and met with other student nurses from the University of Costa Rica.

Life-saving skills put to use

Davies and Rathod are quick to praise the dozen students enrolled in the class.

"The students made a great team," the instructors agreed. "They were enthusiastic and worked hard. They didn't complain, they were flexible and they were good ambassadors."

Just how good became apparent only a few days after the student nurses in the global health issues class left Costa Rica. One of the mothers who had learned first_aid techniques from the students saved a small child from choking using the Heimlich maneuver the students had demonstrated only days prior.

Traveling to a less privileged country

Jessica Benson is one of the students who participated in the class. Benson worked as a surgical technologist before enrolling full time at Peninsula College to study nursing. When she graduates in June 2009, she plans to return to surgery and travel as an operating room nurse.

Benson said she

enrolled in the global health issues course because she "wanted to travel to another country and visit less privileged areas."

"As a nursing student, I am exposed to our first_class health care system in the United States (but) I wanted to experience the health care system in a less_developed country as an enrichment opportunity," Benson explained. "The cultural exchange that happened through language, including the laughter and enjoyment of trying to learn, was fulfilling and very entertaining. These types of experiences are important because people need to see the parts of countries that are so often ignored through tourism."

"Everybody sees the popular spots, the shopping, the best tours, the hotels and the tourist towns," Benson continued, "however, they don't get to see the 50 smiling faces of the children who can't sit still from excitement

that you are there. They don't get to taste the meals that are specially made all day just to see you enjoy every flavor. They don't get to teach women in a village about basic first aid that is so important when a hospital is more than two hours away."

Class was 'awesome'

Joseph Montagne had never been outside the United States except to visit Canada and the opportunity to study and travel in Costa Rica seemed like it would be a good first opportunity for him "to get out and see what is out there." Now that he has, Montagne is considering earning a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing with an emphasis in community health.

"I think the community health class was awesome because it made us interact with a wide variety of people in the country in a way that I feel would not have been possible if I'd just gone somewhere and sat on a beach," Montagne said. "I think it is important to get to see how other people live and to interact with them."

Like a hand in a glove

Yvonne Krieger worked as a medical secretary/transcriptionist in the medical field for more than

25 years before enrolling in P.C.'s nursing program.

"The reason that I am studying nursing is to be in a position to help others and make a difference in our world," Krieger said. "I believe that nursing is more than just skills. It requires a compassionate spirit to treat the whole person."

"I am very interested in working in community health and enjoy working with people of different cultures," Krieger continued, "so this opportunity fit like a hand in a glove for me."

Now that she is back, Krieger said she believes the entire Costa Rican experience will help make her a better person - and a better nurse.

The experience "gave me a perspective into another culture's health care system and widened my understanding as a nurse in a way that was much more valuable and credible than just reading about it in a book," she said. "As a mother, as well as a nursing student, I connected with some Costa Rican women (in a way) that I will not forget and I think we provided friendship, as well as valuable knowledge, to them."

Perhaps most importantly of all, "much of what I learned in Costa Rica can be applied right here working

as a nurse on the peninsula,"

Krieger said.

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