Villanova, PA, March 20, 2010 — "This experience provided me with a new perspective on the difference in health care systems between third world countries and the U.S.,” affirms Villanova University College of Nursing student Margaret Leahy after spending a week in the bateyes (shantytowns) of the Dominican Republic. She and six other students from the traditional and accelerated second degree BSN programs traveled to the Caribbean country as part of a senior level pediatric global health experience option offered in March during spring break.
This is the fourth year a Villanova nursing group has traveled to the country. The students were partially funded as Connelly-Delouvrier International Scholars. Accompanied by Clinical Assistant Professor Debbie Wimmer, MSN, CRNP a pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) and fellow PNP and Villanova alumna Geri O’Hare, MSN, CRNP, the group accessed underserved populations through the nonprofit Medicines for Humanity which funds mobile health care teams in Quisqueya and Baharona. The group visited a hospital in San Pedro, touring a pediatric unit and the emergency department. They also toured and cared for people in multiple bateyes. During their home visits, students saw residents living in poverty with no sanitation or other proper hygiene resources.
Students also conducted a lay health promoter workshop at a community center in Quisqueya, teaching them how to check vital signs. Each of their presentations was based on needs assessment and information from previous groups. The workshops were well received by the health promoters. Wimmer notes the importance for the students of "seeing they are so valued by the community."
The students, through games and songs, brought language and cognitive development exercises to the children to stimulate verbal interaction from adults. Through their interactive presentations translated into Spanish, they taught community members the effects of substance abuse, using “drinking goggles” to show the effect of alcohol, taught about the liver as a filter, and showed the effects of tobacco on the lungs. They also taught self-esteem and making good life choices, as well as the importance of breastfeeding until one year to prevent infant death from premature weaning.
The group donated to the mobile team, through their own fundraising and a $500 contribution from nonprofit Little Smiles, an emergency pack of medications plus vitamins, zinc, topical creams and basic over-the-counter medications and steroid inhalers. They left their own clothing behind for local residents who have very little. The College of Nursing hopes to send another group to Baharona in the fall.
While making a difference in this part of the world, the students gained a global perspective and perhaps even more. Senior Kelly Ryan has solidified her career goals, "I would like to specialize in international maternal and infant health, helping those around the world but especially mothers and babies in poverty stricken areas."