Published: September 06, 2007
By Robin Roger
recent hospital visit, several nursing students looked on as a
19-year-old who had just had a stomach tumor removed discovered his
family could not afford the Ensure needed to keep him alive.
was wasting away in bed,” said Karen Alford, a University of Tampa
graduate student. “We didn’t know what would happen next.”
students never learned what happened with the teenager, but they did
learn about the state of health care in Ecuador, and how its system and
values differ from those in the United States. Alford was one of seven
UT students who traveled to Ecuador in May with Dr. Kim Curry and Dr.
Kathy Ellis, assistant professors of nursing.
The group spent one
week in Quito, the capital, and one week in the rainforest. They met
with the faculty of the state school of nursing and saw patients in a
variety of settings. They visited a maternity hospital, a home for the
elderly, and a school in the rainforest.
“We’re not just going to
see the sites,” said Curry before leaving. “We’re taking care of
patients. Students learn a lot from the Ecuadorian patients because they
have a very different medical system.”
The enlightening — and
sometimes heartbreaking — experience taught the students that in other
countries quality health care is not a right but a privilege that we
sometimes take for granted in the United States. They also learned that
our way of doing things is not the only way, Curry said.
students learned about herbal medicine and traditional medical practices
of the Quechua Indians. The students went on an herbal plant hike where
they learned about the different medicinal benefits of native plants.
They learned about herbal or “alternative” medicine, which has been
practiced in the rainforest for centuries.
“You have to think
about whose alternative it is,” Curry said. “We have a mindset that the
scientific method is the only way. The answer is a lot broader than
Many of the plants used by indigenous peoples have been
proven by modern science to contain medicinal chemicals. For instance,
if a bug did not like the taste of a plant, it was considered to be
beneficial. Indeed, many of these plants contain alkaloids, chemicals
active in the human body. Another example is aspirin, which comes from
the willow tree and cinchona, which is used to produce quinine.
are very few resources available to the Quecha Indians, and they don’t
have the access to health care that we’ve come to expect in America,
Curry said. Tradition and culture are the largest barriers to care.
“Not everyone trusts traditional Western medicine in the rural areas,” she said. “There are many superstitions.”
Brujeria, or witchcraft, is still practiced by shamans. If someone is
successful, someone may ask to put a curse on him. If someone feels they
have been cursed, they carry out a healing session with a shaman who
The students visited a shaman, who conducted a mock
healing ritual on one of them, demonstrating how he would cleanse a
At the maternity hospital, the students saw one
nurse attending to 40 women in one room. The hospital also had a high
rate of cesarean sections, because many of these women were younger than
“It was shocking,” said senior Laura Ackerman. “Here you
hear about teens having kids that young. It’s heard of, but it’s not as
While Ackerman wasn’t as excited about going to the
home for the elderly, she said it turned out to be everybody’s favorite.
There she worked with a group of elderly women doing exercises.
was very interesting because it wasn’t all indoors,” she said. “It was a
bit rundown and pretty shabby, but it was nice enough for them to live
in, and they had everything they needed. The patients seemed to be real
In the nursing home, graduate student Karen Alford noticed
that very few patients took medications, while in the United States, 20
to 30 medications is the norm. Here, she said, half the patients are
sedated and have to worry about side effects. It made her wonder whether
a lot of medications are necessary.
Though there are pharmacies
and health care clinics everywhere, funding is a problem. The first
couple of days are covered by the hospital, but after that the family
has to pay for everything, and go to the pharmacy and pay for supplies.
an Axel and Ann Claesges Study Abroad Fund scholarship recipient, said
she was shocked by the chasm between private and public hospitals.
the private hospitals look like something you would see in the United
States, she said the public hospitals were a lot more rundown, with
older equipment and fewer resources. They often re-used things, instead
of disposing of them after one use. But it’s hard to look at them and
criticize the conditions, she said.
“This is what nursing is all
about,” she said. “Nursing is supposed to be low tech, high touch. The
technology is not the end all be all; compassion can be more important.”