At the conclusion of the Spring semester, eight undergraduate nursing students traveled with Elizabeth Blunt, PhD, RN, APN, BC, assistant professor and Ann Scheve, MS, RN, clinical assistant professor to Poland. From May 12-24, they visited two major universities, learned about Polish heath care and traditional medicine, nursing education, and culture. Concurrent to their academic experiences, the students and faculty were able to immerse themselves in Polish culture and history through visits to the Auschwitz and Birkeneau concentration camps, as well as Wawel and Lancut Castles. They also spent a weekend experiencing Polish mountain culture, staying in Zakopane in the Carpathian Mountains.
The group spent much of the first week in Jaroslaw- a town in southeastern Poland dating back to 1031- accompanied by faculty and students from Bronislaw Markiewicz State School of Technology and Economics (PWSTE). There they had the opportunity to tour the Profamilia Hospital labor and delivery unit and neonatal intensive care unit, among others. The tour was conducted by the Director of Nursing, Chief Operating Officer, and Medical Director of the hospital. At Jagellonian University in Krakow, the top-ranked college of nursing in Poland, the students had the opportunity to participate in a multicultural class. They also spent a day at the Pediatric Institute, the leading pediatric specialty hospital in Poland, learning from the Jagellonian faculty and students. At Dom Ulgi w Cierpieniu (The Foundation house for the relief of Suffering) a homeless shelter, hospice center, and nursing home, the students and faculty experienced a different model of care. All services are provided free of charge, and the men in the homeless shelter contribute by building new structures on the site, while also providing companionship to the nursing home residents.
The highlight of the 2-week experience was the 5th International Conference on Health, Illness, and Beauty in Jaroslaw, during which the students and faculty presented on diverse topics including caregiver burden, nursing education, and simulation. The conference is multidisciplinary, with physicians, nurses, social workers, and cosmetologists in attendance. In Poland, common dermatology care such as treatment for eczema, psoriasis, and skin lesions is provided by cosmetology graduates rather than physicians. The conference offered diverse topics, such as aging populations, social services in Poland, psychiatric nursing and health policy and reform. Two of the student group presentations were co-presented with their Polish peers. Having communicated via email throughout the spring semester, the students’ presentations on medication safety and fall prevention were given in conjunction with the Polish nursing students, highlighting the similarities and differences evident in Polish and U.S. healthcare.
The students and faculty spent time learning about traditional Polish medicine, which would be known in the U.S. as alternative therapies or complementary medicine. Student Emily Dresser notes, “The biggest thing I learned from experiencing Polish health care is that often alternative medicines can have a large impact on an individual's health. In the U.S., we are quick to prescribe medicine, but in Poland they focus on the healing process and being kind to their bodies. They use salt mines to improve breathing, asthma, COPD, etc., but they mentioned many times that it is a long process and needs time.”
While in Krakow, the nursing students were provided with a fascinating tour of the respiratory health center at Wieliczka salt mine. There, preventative and curative therapies are provided for respiratory diseases such as asthma, which includes a program during which kindergarten students are brought to the salt mine daily for 3 weeks to help promote their respiratory function. Jagellonian University is conducting research on site related to the therapeutic effects of the uncontaminated, salt-saturated air. A visit to Horyniec-Zdroj, an area of micro-climate in the Carpathian Mountains, provided the opportunity to learn about the balotherapy provided there, as well as experience some of the treatments offered such as vibration hydrotherapy, sulfur water treatments, and mud baths for joint disorders.
Emily points out that in the health care spa they visited, the Polish people utilize many alternative treatments in order to improve the individual’s well-being, such as water aerobics, aqua therapy, mud wraps, stress reduction and rest. “Patients will stay in the spa for about two weeks, exemplifying the importance they place on the individual’s entire well-being,” recalls Emily, “In a way, I think there is a larger emphasis on patience which in turn allows for healing and stress reduction.”