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UT Nursing Students Practice in Dominican Republic

Published: March 23, 2009

On a hot afternoon in the Dominican Republic, a group of UT students gathered in an open field to play baseball and kickball in the midday sun. It was not long before the residents of the nearby batey, or sugar and banana workers’ town, became aware of the “Americanos” and eagerly came out to join the games.

The students – a group of 12 nursing majors from UT, accompanied by two faculty members – were visiting the Caribbean nation as part of what was dubbed an “alternative spring break” through Orphanage Outreach, a nonprofit organization that works to help disadvantaged children.

The nursing group ventured to the ocean-side city of Monte Cristi, near the Haitian border, and spent the week providing free health screenings to the local residents as well as teaching school children lessons about healthy living and human anatomy.

As the crowds grew, the games evolved into a spontaneous health screening and educational lesson with the students providing the residents with free hygienic supplies like toothpaste. All of it was a rare opportunity for the local community, which has limited access to health care resources.

“I chose to study nursing because I care about people and want to make a difference in people’s lives. My goal for this trip was the same,” said UT senior Aliya Brooks. “I feel like we did make some impact in the community.”

As one of four students on the trip with some Spanish-speaking ability, UT senior Daniel Rivera helped translate many of the conversations between the nurses and the patients and schoolchildren.

Patients were asked questions about their medical history, given basic wellness check-ups, and referred to on-site doctors who could provide prescriptions for specific ailments.

The group alternated its community clinical screenings with health lessons in local elementary schools. In their down-time, students got to know many of the local children and others through activities like the spontaneous baseball and kickball game in the bateyes.

Rivera, who enjoyed a game of catch with one of the local schoolchildren, was particularly touched when the young boy asked if he could keep the baseball and glove with which they played.

“I think that left the biggest impression on me out of everything I experienced on the whole trip,” Rivera said. “It was amazing to see just how talented and smart many of the children were.”

UT senior Sarah Harris organized the trip through Orphanage Outreach, helping raise more than $7,000 in donations to fund the group’s travel. Harris, who serves as vice president of the Student Nurses Association, was motivated to organize the trip after hearing about a similar trip a group of UT nurses took to Ecuador in 2007. Participating students received credit for 40 hours of clinical practice for a course in community health and nursing.

“It really opened your eyes to the fact that not everyone out there has the same kind of access to health care that we have in America,” Harris said. “It was a very humbling experience.”