Nursing Students Travel to Mexico
“It can be very humbling to remind yourself of what it is like to be in a strange country, be sick, and not speak the language very well. It gives you a whole new base, a new philosophy.”

Nursing students travel to Mexico Assistant Professor Elizabeth Rice gladly welcomes comments like this presented by students in her study abroad courses. Her most recent course Mexico: Health, Culture & Wellness took place spring 2008, when Rice and nine students spent 11 days immersed in the Mexican health care system. Spending time in both San Miguel and Guanajuato, students were able to become acquainted with community health care agencies such as the Feed the Hungry program; CASA, a program that provides assistance to low-income women and children; and Patronata Pro Ninos, an agency that provides both health care and dental care to children. The course also included collaboration with the University of Guanajuato’s School of Nursing, allowing for visits to clinics and hospitals in Guanajuato. This collaboration builds on a visit by Dean Sally Lundeen and Associate Dean Susan Dean-Baar to several of the University’s nursing campuses in 2006.

This course encouraged students to investigate the Mexican culture and its impact on health beliefs and practices. This included not only knowledge of the history of the Mexican health care system, but an “understanding of how cultural competency is an essential element of global health care,” says Rice. Her students also participated in intensive Spanish language classes, geared specifically to enhance Spanish medical vocabulary. Promoting and honing these skills through a focused experiences in Mexican social service agencies allowed the students to embrace the culture and community surrounding them, resulting in a profound change in outlook, unique in study abroad programs.

Another student explained this exceptional transformation saying, “You can read about something in a book, and in my cultural diversity classes that is what we did, we read about cultures in books. But if you don’t really experience it, it doesn’t mean anything until you are there, doing something with another culture - different than your own. The trip really broadened my perspective. In clinical (back in Milwaukee), a few weeks ago, I was able to converse with a Spanish-speaking client before the translator arrived. I felt a lot more confident about what I was doing because I know something about Mexico.” That’s the kind of transformational learning about diversity that the UWM College of Nursing offers students at all levels of the curriculum.

The next College of Nursing study abroad program will take place in January 2009, with a trip to Korea. Contact Anne Banda (banda@uwm.edu) for more information.