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Nurse practitioner students gain experience, cultural awareness in Colombia

May 3, 2019

KOKOMO, Ind. – Eight Indiana University Kokomo nursing students gained hands-on experience as health care providers, while serving people in Colombia.

The students, part of the campus’ first Family Nurse Practitioner (F.N.P.) program, spent a week in Cartagena, Colombia, providing screenings and services at five clinics in and around the city.

Mary Steinke, F.N.P. director, led the trip. She has participated in medical missions in the past, and wanted her students to have this experience as they prepare to graduate.

“I think they were very humbled by the experience, and came back changed people,” said Steinke. “This was a good way for them to use the skills they’ve learned, and to be challenged, by helping others. I think it’s important for students to understand how many people live in other parts of the world. I also wanted them to get to know Hispanic culture, because they will be working with patients of all different cultures.” 

J.R. Pico, senior lecturer in Spanish, who grew up in Cartagena, traveled with the group and provided cultural experiences, including visits to historical sites, an emerald museum, and a chocolate factory, and a kayak tour of mangroves. The group also visited the home of Pico’s sister, who lives in Cartagena, and prepared a meal with her family.

During the week-long experience, the F.N.P. students worked at clinics at five sites, including in villages, schools, a pediatric charity hospital, and a home for children with cancer. The students performed oral health screenings and fluoride treatments, and did weight, height, and scoliosis checks on the children. Adults could have blood pressure and heart and lung assessments, along with dermatology and cardiology consultations.

They also met with nursing students at the University of Cartagena.

F.N.P. student Matthew Amayun, Brownsburg, said the experience will make him a more compassionate health care provider.

“It made me realize that everyone has their own story, and everyone has been through something,” he said. “The key is not to look at a person, read their chart, and think you know their story, when it may not be true.”

He enjoyed the friendliness of the people they met.

“You read about a place and its people, and you learn about them, but that doesn’t give you the emotion, or make you realize these are real people,” he said. “The people in Colombia are real people, and they have their own needs, the way we do. Just seeing the need there, the kindness they have, and the resourcefulness of many of them, is amazing.”

His classmate, Chenai Mavis Mvundura, wanted to visit Colombia to see a developing country like her native Zimbabwe, to view how they are the same and different. She learned there are rich and poor people everywhere, and feels convicted to do what she can to bridge the gap for health care disparities.

“God places you in a position to help people,” the Westfield resident said. “That’s the whole duty of man, to help people. I want to provide resources for those who cannot afford health care, whether it’s in a developing country or a developed country.”

The IU Kokomo group brought donated medical supplies, clothing, toothpaste and toothbrushes, and other items, leaving them at each site they visited.

Steinke noted that they worked with leaders in those communities, to make sure they were meeting true needs, and not just coming in for their own benefits.

“We’ll get some of the benefit from it, but the overall plan should be for all of us to rise,” she said. “It’s important for the community leaders to be the drivers of this program, in terms of what they perceive their needs to be. They take the lead, and we can do what they think is helpful.”

She was especially proud to be able to give a donated laptop to the top nursing student at the University of Cartagena. The student will use the laptop for a long time, and it will help her succeed in school, so she can serve her country as a health care provider.

“That’s what it’s all about, education, and helping people better themselves so they can give back,” she said.

Steinke looks forward to continuing the partnership to take graduate nursing students to Colombia in the future.

“Our students come back with a greater appreciation of another culture, and how they can treat patients in this culture in a holistic manner,” she said. “They also have a greater appreciation of their own skills as health care providers.”

Steinke received a grant from the IU Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Council to fund the program, along with funding from IU Kokomo’s Jack Ryan International Travel Fund and an IU Experiential Learning Grant.

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 05/03/2019