Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Good Deeds Benefit Nurse-Volunteers, Too

Good deeds usually have a ripple effect, and sometimes that effect comes right back to those who do the good deed.

Here’s an example: I recently read in the U-T San Diego newspaper about a group of nurses who traveled to Haiti to provide relief for a hospital staff that wanted to attend an educational conference. It turns out that these U.S. nurses, mostly graduate students, also got some invaluable experience that will serve them well in their careers.

In January, 10 nursing students from the University of San Diego’s Hahn School of Nursing left for Milot, Haiti, a town of 25,000 in the northern part of the country. Their final destination was Hôpital Sacré Coeur, which played a major role in treating victims of the 2010 earthquake. More recently, it has been treating people who are suffering from cholera, and the student nurses were there to help.

According to the story, seven of the 10 nurses are in the USD master’s entry program; two RNs are soon to be nurse practitioners; and one RN is studying to be a clinical nurse specialist. All paid their own plane fare and part of their room and board. Some in the group had little or no clinical experience; others had a lot, but all were forced to “step out of their comfort zones” to care for patients who sorely needed help. Some of the patients needed the most basic of care, and much of it was delivered in tents.

Several of the nurses noticed that Haitian-style care in this part of the country often included little communication between patients and caregivers – perhaps because the staff is often overwhelmed, or perhaps because the culture just doesn’t teach the importance of acknowledging patients. In any case, nurse Derrick Duarte, 25, said that “patient advocacy” seemed to be absent.

“There were 24 patients in one area,” he told the photographer who accompanied the nurses’ group. “Some have not been seen or talked to in four days. When the [Haitian] nurse passed out the medications, not a word was said, and she passed out medications to six different people. It just shows me how important [interaction is]. If I just said ‘Bonjour’ to them, it made a difference.”

Psychiatric nurse Liz Cianci, 31, noted the same thing: “I don’t see a lot of communication between the care providers and patients here.”

For those nursing students with little clinical experience, the trip was invaluable. Not only did they learn how to work in difficult circumstances, but they gained clinical skills in an environment that would be hard to find in this country.

Volunteering for such trips, if financially feasible, might be an excellent way for today’s students to learn some of the clinical skills that they aren’t able to acquire by graduation. It seems to be one area where “doing good” can reap some rewards for volunteer student nurses, as well.

What do you think? Have you ever been involved in a short-term clinical experience in another country?

Editor’s Note: See related NurseZone article at NLN’s Toolkit Aims to Improve Global Experiences for Faculty and Student Nurses.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've been to Haiti several times. I really think that only nurses with some experience should go. Those with little or no clinical experience will be a burden on a already inadequate system. Health care tourism is disrespectful to the people. If a nurse is so inexperienced that she cannot practice at home, she should not do so abroad.