In March, 10 graduate-level nursing students at Wagner College headed to the Caribbean for spring break — not to bask on a beach, but to work in some of the toughest conditions in the world today.
These students taking Comparative Health Care Practices with Paula Tropello, chair of the Spiro School of Nursing, spent five days in Haiti, mostly in the town of Fond Parisien near the capital, Port-au-Prince.
The trip was organized in partnership with the non-governmental organization Foundation for Peace, which provides services for earthquake refugees living at a large camp in Fond Parisien. Many Haitians have been living in tents since the earthquake of January 2010 (see photo above).
Wagner's nursing students worked in a general health clinic and an obstetric hospital, and also visited a nearby village to distribute chlorine tablets and help educate people about preventing the spread of cholera, a waterborne bacterial disease. The recent cholera outbreak hit that area particularly hard.
As professional nurses from New York City, they were shocked by some of the conditions they saw, and quickly pitched in to help patients and organize the hospital's resources.
The students and their professor saw the experience primarily as an opportunity for them to learn on many different levels. Not only did they acquire new medical knowledge about treating tropical diseases, but they also expanded their skills in thinking quickly and responding effectively under challenging circumstances.
Tropello is planning future trips so that the Wagner-Haiti connection can become a sustainable relationship. Casey Grillo supports her professor's plans. “No place has taught me social awareness like Haiti,” she wrote in a reflection paper after the trip. “Although our cultures and language are different, our health care needs remain the same, and the power of caring is infinite and universal. I look forward to my next mission trip.”