The University of Alabama

UA Nursing Students Sharing, Learning Outside Classroom

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Some University of Alabama nursing students will take their education to the next level this summer when they step outside the four walls of a lecture hall and experience medicine in an atypical, and challenging, way.

Students had the opportunity this year to enroll in two study abroad nursing courses — one to Asia and another to Bolivia — and many jumped at the chance. The courses were developed through a collaborative effort between the Capstone College of Nursing, UA Study Abroad and e3Partners, a faith-based organization that coordinates medical mission trips around the world.

“We are very passionate about giving our students that global health experience,” said Dr. Ann Graves, an associate professor in nursing and faculty lead for the Bolivia trip. “It allows them to see that something exists outside their environment and culture, and then making that relate to health care.”

Students had two options: Asia or Bolivia. The Asia trip, which will be held May 8-19, drew the attention of 11 students – 10 undergraduates and one graduate – and two instructors. The Bolivia trip, which is taking place July 12-20, brought in 18 undergraduate nursing students and three instructors, including Graves.

The students will provide four and one-half days of medical services in a rural clinic, and they will serve as the majority of the health care providers in both areas, said Dr. Marilyn Handley, associate professor in nursing and faculty lead for the Asia trip. There will be team physicians leading the medical team. The students will do triage, assessment and, under physician/faculty supervision, determine the best plan of care for the patients.

“They’ll have an opportunity to pull together some of their clinical skills and knowledge they’ve been learning, and they’ll get a broader understanding that life is very different from what they see in the U.S.,” Handley said. “It’s a real eye-opener for some of them to be able to better understand the cultural competence, the acceptance of other cultures and the realization that while we may prefer our way of living, it’s not the only way.”

The students were assigned readings to help familiarize themselves with the physical problems, spiritual atmosphere and the culture, and they are required to keep a journal during their trip. Each day, the group will meet and discuss what was experienced that day, and they’ll be given time for self-reflection, a major component of service learning, Handley said.

Handley and Graves also applied and were accepted for the Faculty Fellows in Service Learning, which provided a $1,500 grant that they used to purchase reusable medical bags and equipment, including blood pressure cuffs, stethoscopes and more, that will be used for this and future medical mission trips.

“The students are going to readily see that these people do not have access to the kind of equipment we do,” Graves said. “They’re going to be distributing medication, primarily over-the-counter drugs. A mother in one of these areas will stand in line for hours just to get worm medication and Tylenol for her children.”

This is the second year the nursing students have participated with e3Partners on a medical mission trip. Last year, Handley and Dr. Alice March took a group to Peru. The interest was so great that they expanded and offered two trips this year through the Study Abroad program, where students earn three credit hours for participating.

Handley and Graves would like for the medical trips to eventually become a self-sustaining program, offering at least two per year to different countries. There has also been discussion of offering trips different times of the year, and opening it up to other health care disciplines, like pre-med, pharmacy, social work, nutrition and other, similar fields.

“It’s just a fun and energizing experience,” Handley said. “To see the students open up and become engaged in what they’re doing. You can see the learning on their faces, in their eyes. It just encourages faculty to keep teaching and providing those opportunities for students.”

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.