A learning advantage: Experiencing nursing and health care abroad in Ireland

Ireland may be a small country, but it had a huge impact on 15 Davenport senior nursing students who traveled there in March to immerse themselves in learning about community health care in Dublin and Galway. This 11-day learning experience fulfilled the clinical requirement of Davenport’s community health nursing course. Students from all four campuses participated.

Although Davenport has offered some study abroad programs for nurses in the past, this was the first time one was structured around fulfilling the clinical component of a course. To assure the learning objectives would be met, participants did research before the trip to gain a good understanding of the cities they’d be visiting and the health challenges they face, which include high rates of homelessness and opiate use.

Once on the ground in the Emerald Isle, students were tasked with gathering data and assessing the community, including demographic, cultural, political, economic factors that influence community health care and summarizing what they learned in a written report. Their daily itinerary centered on meetings with executive leaders and staff at key private and public health care organizations including the Irish Cancer Society, the Nursing and Midwifery Board and the Mental Health Commission of Ireland.

They also met with faculty and students at Trinity College to understand nursing education, competencies and learning opportunities abroad. In addition, students spent a day sorting through donations for homeless people as a community service project.

Through all of these encounters, they not only learned in detail how Ireland’s community health professionals provide quality care; they were also able to observe their deep commitment to their communities. As a result, the students gained a real appreciation for “the many important roles of community health nurses and how they are able to impact the health and wellness of individuals, families and populations,” reports Kelli Leask, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, Davenport’s department chair for nursing and a faculty director for the study abroad program.

Students studied hard, but they enjoyed some tourist experiences, too – visiting Ireland’s national museum, the Book of Kel’s, the Cliffs of Mohr and strolling the streets of Dublin and Galway.  

With health care under intense debate in the United States, the trip was an opportunity to gain perspective by seeing the similarities and differences between Ireland’s system of socialized medicine and how nurses are trained and practice within it. Although the students probably won’t become nurses abroad, having this experience as an undergraduate nursing student triggered a deeper understanding and empathy for the many types of patients that nurses encounter on the job and the intrinsic value of every individual.

“From a global perspective, it was an opportunity for our students to be exposed to a different culture and see stereotypes removed by the sense of serving – stereotypes such as an underserved population or white collar versus blue collar. They just weren’t there,” notes Debbie Bosworth, MSN, RN, Davenport’s department chair for nursing in Grand Rapids and faculty director of the program.

“A gift of a nurse is to understand that they’ll serve a variety of patient populations,” adds Leask. “You can’t teach the desire to serve, but you can model it. Our students were able to see that desire and its impact.”

As one participant, Rachel Binge has expressed it: “Learning in the classroom is not the same as learning firsthand and using the information. Seeing how Ireland operates in health care allows us as students to put what we learned abroad into practice here and help patients on a more personal level.”

Without question, this kind of learning provides a compelling advantage, no matter where in the world or what field of nursing a student pursues.

Plans are already underway for another nursing study abroad trip in 2020. Contact Kelli Leask for more information at kleask@davenport.edu or visit Davenport’s study abroad webpage.

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