Beyond the classroom, taking health care to Peru
Over the summer, several nursing and public health students got the chance to put their knowledge to the test in the field.
But they didn’t work with patients in a hospital. They treated them in rural villages high in the Peruvian mountains and even on the roadside.
It’s something that junior nursing major Sarah Dockery will never forget. Sitting on the side of a dusty road, she pricked a child’s finger to collect blood for anemia testing. She couldn’t go to the nearest clinic to do this work, because there was none.
For Sarah and 18 other students, they saw first-hand what living without medical care within reach was like.
Nursing professors, Roxanne Amerson, Tracy Fasolino, and Lisa Miller, and their students traveled to Peru for a month over the summer to work with a non-government organization, Sacred Valley Health, as part of the Global Health Certificate program that is housed in the School of Nursing and open to any health-related major.
Though Amerson and Miller took their global health students to Peru two years ago, this trip was different. Instead of gathering data for Amerson’s and Miller’s research on anemia prevalence, the students were there to help with the screenings for the organization.
The students worked alongside other volunteers and employees of Sacred Valley Health, helping with anemia screening and administering vitamins and anti-parasitic medications. They also completed a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis of the anemia screening campaigns and presented their findings to the organization for future improvements.
The students lived with host families and attended about 10 hours of Spanish classes each week. And for McKee, who had also done mission trips to South America, this was a unique experience for her.
“Peru was incredible,” McKee said. “I loved the different, cooler climate. I’ve been to Central America for mission trips in high school and the temperatures there are so much warmer and so much more humid. I also loved getting to know the people in the community on a much more personal level than I expected to.”
Though Dockery had also traveled abroad before, this was unlike any other trip she had taken.
“I had done international travel with mission trips, but never to South America. In my mind, I had grouped South America together, but each country is so different. Different than what I was expecting,” Dockery said. “We stayed with a host family, and there were 13 of us in one house. Being in the same town for a month allowed us to become acquainted with the community and invested in our work.”
Through community visits, they got to know the people and got an eyewitness experience of living in Peru, especially in the rural communities in the mountains. While on their second community visit, they came to a point in the road where it was too steep for the van to continue up the mountain.
“We didn’t know where we were going except up,” Dockery said. “They told us we had to keep hiking. I could barely breathe, but it was just beautiful –the snow-capped mountains and people walking by with their cows.”
In helping with the clinic’s anemia screenings, Dockery and McKee pricked a finger of each child being tested and took their weight and height measurements.
Neither student has had clinical rotations yet, so this was their first experience working outside of the classroom with patients.
“It gave us an opportunity to apply what we learned,” McKee said.
But they didn’t work the entire time. They got to visit Machu Picchu with Miller, visited mines where pink salt is excavated for commercial purposes, take Spanish classes and visit the Peruvian markets, Amerson said.
Not only did they experience a different culture, but a different climate as well. They were about 11,000 feet or more in elevation and traded the summer temperatures for the winter weather.
Being in Peru impacted the students in ways they didn’t foresee. For McKee, it opened her eyes to different levels of health care access.
“We had a hands-on experience that allowed us to see what it means to not have access to quality health care, and it made me think about how we can better-serve others who don’t have that connection to health care, both internationally and in America,” McKee said.
For Dockery, the trip gave her new perspective on life, and opened her eyes to career possibilities.
“I think that nonprofits do not get enough appreciation,” Dockery said. “You’ll see them on Instagram, sometimes they can seem glamorous, but it’s hard work. The language barrier, and work – it’s very humbling to be a part of that. It gave me a lot of perspective. It’s not just field work, there’s an office side to working in nonprofits. And it’s important to be passionate and invested for however long you’re there working.”
After reading the student journals, Amerson said the students left with not only new knowledge about health care, but cultural awareness too.
“I saw the students grow as individuals, they had some challenges,” Amerson said. “I saw students’ Spanish skills improve, but as I was reading their reflection journals, I could see that students had developed an attitude of cultural humility, which means they are recognizing how to view another culture through a particular community’s perspective; acknowledging that they don’t know everything about a particular culture, but willing to learn; and to be respectful of the culture they are working with. This is important to learn because of the many cultures nurses and health care providers come into contact with in the field.”