Students Gain Clinical and Cultural Skills in Costa Rica

Published: Jul 1, 2013
The UT group screened patients for diabetes, anxiety and hypertension and measured BMI (body mass index). The students demonstrated exercises to help with joint pain and gave massages.
The UT group screened patients for diabetes, anxiety and hypertension and measured BMI (body mass index). The students demonstrated exercises to help with joint pain and gave massages.

Clare Stern ’15 has a bucket list of places she wants to visit in her lifetime, marked by a plethora of pins crowding her wall map at home. While Costa Rica was one of those pins, it was the combination of destination and her passion for health care that solidified her seat on the nursing trip there this summer.

“In conjunction with my love for travel, I have a deep passion for health care,” said Stern, a public health major from Jacksonville. “When I saw a former student’s blog about the trip I knew I had to be a part of the course as soon as I could.”

The travel course, Transcultural Healthcare in Latin America, involved seven weeks of study in the spring semester, followed by 10 days of hands-on course work in Costa Rica. The Claesges family has annually donated scholarships for the trip, which reduced travel fees for all those in the course.

As a community health practicum, the students provided patient care, health promotion, disease prevention and community education activities, followed up each day with reflection.

“It’s a really transformative experience,” said Kim Curry, an associate professor who led the course, along with Clinical Instructor Tressa Pedroff and Associate Professor Rebecca Olsen.

While this trip has been led in various forms for nursing students since 2006, this year’s combined public health, nursing, pre-medicine and psychology students. They screened patients for diabetes, anxiety and hypertension and measured BMI (body mass index). The students demonstrated exercises to help with joint pain and gave massages.

While much of the work is technical, the biggest goal is cultural competence.

“It’s not just about going into a clinic and helping patients,” Curry said. “It’s about understanding the culture of a country.”

Many found the language barrier a true test, and came away with more patience and understanding for those they treat here in the U.S. with the same challenge.

“They really felt it eye-opening to not speak the language and to see how handicapping it can be,” said Pedroff.

The benefit for learning how it feels to be an outsider in another culture was noted by most who participated in the trip. Carly Hartka ’14 recommitted to learning a second language. Graduate student Karen Ross said she’ll “never look at a patient who doesn’t speak my language in the same way.” 

 

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