by Jordan Head

Studying abroad gives students the opportunity to immerse themselves into a culture unlike their own. For a dozen courageous University of West Georgia Tanner Health System School of Nursing (THSSON) students, this was exactly the case.

To Give is to ReceiveA team of nursing faculty and staff, community members, UWG health services staff, and senior nursing students from both the Carrollton and Newnan student cohorts traveled to Ecuador, a primarily Spanish speaking country in South America, on a health-focused clinical program. For 17 days, students gained invaluable experience working with patients in community treatment centers around Quito, the second largest city in Ecuador.

Service in Faith and Technology (SIFAT), a non-profit organization that aims to help underdeveloped areas, worked closely with UWG students to bridge their need for study abroad opportunities and Quito’s need for aid. To prepare for the trip, students went through a week of pre-travel training on a SIFAT retreat in Lineville, Alabama.

“The whole point of the retreat was to expose us to different cultures and their ways of living,” said Morgan Stull, THSSON student. “The retreat allowed all 12 of us strangers to strategize and work like a team to solve all of our problems. We were able to see what life was really like in other countries and what it’s like to live with the bare minimum necessities.”

The purpose of the trip was to provide medical care for both the Atucucho and Puengasi areas of Quito. This goal supports the fact that there is an essential need for health care providers and affordable treatment in those areas. Two UWG Health Services certified family nurse practitioners, Jim Martin and Greg Heath, certified family nurse practitioner Julie Willard, and SON assistant professor and certified nurse midwife, Diane Wise led the team in providing care to almost 1000 patients during the two week experience.

“There is one doctor for every 635 people,” said nursing student, Kayla Tyson. “Some of the main causes of death in Ecuador include diabetes, cerebral vascular disease, and hypertensive heart disease. Ecuador has the fourth highest death rate due to tuberculosis in North and South America. About 38 percent of the population is in poverty and another 24 percent is in extreme poverty. This could explain why citizens can’t afford healthcare or see a doctor on a regular basis.”

Relationship building proved to be a recurring theme throughout the mission. Though unfamiliar with Quito patients and students from corresponding cohorts, students worked together to support a righteous cause. School of Nursing Assistant Professor Lourdes Cody, who speaks Spanish fluently, and THSSON Simulation Program Manager, Deb Davison were both instrumental in assisting students as they were caring for this underserved population.

“Though we are from two different student cohorts, we all had one common goal: to be the best nurses we could be,” said Jorden Camera, UWG THSSON student. “Being from a cluster of different backgrounds, we managed to develop some undeniable friendships.”

Students were granted three credit hours for participating in the study abroad program. While the credit received may be beneficial, the connections and experiences gained with the people of Ecuador may be the most significant intangible.

“Our trip to Ecuador has opened my eyes to many things, the first and most important one being that I need to be thankful for what I have,” said Morgan. “Visiting homes in Atucucho made me realize how blessed I am with the things I have. I can only hope that I touched as many lives as I possibly could while I was over there. I know that Ecuador and its people will always hold a special place in my heart.”

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Posted on June 21, 2016