The weeks following my Alternative Winter Break – Bahamas trip have been both challenging and rewarding. With the start of my final semester in Nursing School, I’ve begun a variety of different tasks and processes to complete my transition from “Student Nurse” to “BSN-prepared Registered Nurse”! There have been so many wonderful moments throughout the past years of Nursing School, but I can’t say I’m not incredibly excited to graduate and begin working. However, that process can still seem quite far away, especially when getting caught up in readings, assignments, papers, quizzes, and tests. I know I’m not alone, though, as many of my fellow Senior Year classmates are always able to provide the exact countdown to graduation – 96 days as of today! Overall, though, it’s the little things throughout the process that make the entire journey worthwhile – one of the most recent ones being the presentations of all the Alternative Winter Break students.
Over 30 Emory School of Nursing students (from juniors to nurses in Master’s programs) traveled to either Jamaica, the Bahamas, or the Dominican Republic in the early part of January. We reconvened just a short while ago to present our trip highlights and information taught (and most importantly – learned) to a variety of fellow students and faculty at the School of Nursing.
The Bahamas group focused on the variety of care that the nurses provide on the rural island of Eleuthera, and the way that these nurses act in a variety of roles that far surpasses the work I’ve ever done as a student nurse. We spent a great deal of time either in the clinics, working directly with these nurses, or at schools providing health talks and education on a variety of topics. The Bahamas group was also especially amazed by the level of community involvement, knowledge, and caring throughout this culture. We couldn’t overemphasize how welcomed, respected, and appreciated we felt throughout the entire trip.
The Dominican Republic group similarly felt this same sense of welcoming and appreciation while they were working with a variety of different patients in the DR. Many of these students were able to work in a maternity/labor & delivery clinic, where they were able to perform perinatal and neonatal assessments, as well as actually deliver some infants! They described how the nurses in this community were able to do so much with the limited resources that they had; a finding also similar in the Bahamas. Many of these students participated in a new infant care system in this clinic known as “Kangaroo Care” – a process in which there is almost constant skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby during the initial days after birth. This Kangaroo Care is able to keep a great deal of premature babies alive at this clinic, despite the fact that they do not have many technologically advanced tools and resources.
The Jamaica group had a variety of different experiences, some of them arguably the most challenging of all three groups. These students explained how the majority of the patients they interacted with were incredibly poor, needy, or abandoned. Much of the time was spent at the “Missionaries of the Poor” Catholic monastery near Kingston, where different missionary Brothers provided care to anyone who was in need. They described the importance of religion in this care, and how it was incorporated into their daily lives. These students also had the initially heartbreaking experience of working with many abandoned and disabled children through this program. The students expressed their initial feelings of overwhelming sadness, but soon learned to see the joy and resilience of these young children. One of the students emphasized how much happiness she found in these patients, despite their obvious hardships. Finally, two of the Missionary Brothers actually came from Jamaica to sing a song for us and promote a concert they are having in March to raise money for the Missionary, which is funded completely through donations.
Overall, it seemed quite clear that all of the students not only had an amazing experience and provided a great deal of teaching while abroad, but they also learned so incredibly much. Some of the common words throughout all three presentations included: “helping,” humbling,” and “enlightening.” We all expressed that all of the hard work before and during the trip was more than paid off whenever we received a smile, hug, or “thank you” from any of the patients we interacted with. We’ve all gained so much respect for these countries, and especially the work that the nurses and medical personnel do there. We’ve learned how dedication, perseverance, and motivation in any situation can enable such incredible things to be accomplished, especially in healthcare settings with such low resources. I’m sure that for many of us, including myself, these trips were some of the best highlights of our entire Student Nursing career.