Students provide care in Nicaragua

By Victor Essel | The Duquesne Duke

Over spring break, 16 nursing students embarked on a journey to Nicaragua to deliver direct health care to the locals.

Junior, senior and second-degree students participated in nursing procedures in a range of health care settings, from vaccinating infants in an urgent care facility to conducting interviews and health screenings of older adults at a neighborhood clinic, according to assistant dean of the nursing school Leah Cunningham.

Cunningham, along with nursing professors Leni Resick, Yvonne Weideman and Rebecca Kronk, accompanied students.

“The field work was more of a service learning experience,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham, who has been leading the trips since their inception in 1995, said the students team up with peers from Universidad Politécnica de Nicaragua in Managua.

“Duquesne and UPOLI have collaborated since 1992 when a consortium of people from Pittsburgh representing education, business and healthcare traveled to Nicaragua to meet with peers in Managua,” Cunningham said. “From this initial meeting, several ongoing initiatives began.”

Cunningham said one of the initiatives was setting up a hermanamiento, or sister-school relationship, between Duquesne and UPOLI Schools of Nursing.

“Since that time we have had the opportunity for faculty and students to travel to Nicaragua annually for a community health nursing experience,” Cunningham said.

Under faculty supervision, students provided local care in both academic environments such as a nursing center, but also in rural areas such as inside homes.

Professor Rebecca Kronk said “the students have a beneficial opportunity to practice nursing in a country with a very different health system.”

“They have the opportunity to work in government run health clinics, participate in health promotion activities at the UPOLI clinic in the barrios of Managua and do public health assessments in these same neighborhoods,” Kronk said.

According to Kronk, each pair of Duquesne students also had a UPOLI student work with them as a team in the neighborhood. The UPOLI students are then able to continue to work with the families in the neighborhood, even after Duquesne students have left.

“It is a wonderful way to sustain the program and a wonderful opportunity for students to bond and learn to work in a collegial manner,” Kronk said.

Kronk said that some students have gone on to do more work like this after they graduated from Duquesne.

“Students never come home the same because they have a greater understanding of health and challenges in another country,” Kronk said. “They feel a great sense of gratitude from the families and those that they work with.”

Among the 16 students, junior nursing student Sarah Dirkmaat went to Nicaragua this year for Spring Break to lend a helping hand.

“I think it is vital for all students to do service in another country in order for them to reflect on the blessings in their own life,” Sarah said.

According to Dirkmaat, the trip was important for her learning experience, and it made her realize she wants to do further service for those in need.