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Nursing students, faculty travel to Dominican Republic

International trip part of Connell School students' community health clinical

02/25/14
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Connell School of Nursing Clinical Instructor Rosemary Byrne led a group of nursing faculty and students on a clinical rotation in community health in the Dominican Republic over the semester break. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Bender '14)

By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff

Published: Feb. 25, 2014

A group of students and faculty from the Connell School of Nursing traveled to the Dominican Republic for the first time last month for a new international nursing educational opportunity added to the school’s portfolio of existing programs in Haiti, Nicaragua, Ecuador, France and Switzerland.

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Connell School of Nursing senior Sarah Bender makes some new friends in the Dominican Republic. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Bender)

Through home visits, the CSON group assessed the health care issues for people in the bateyes, small villages surrounding the sugar cane fields outside San Pedro de Macorís in the Dominican Republic. The communities were built for workers to harvest the sugar, but are now occupied year-round. It is a very poor community with no running water in the homes.

“There is great need there,” said CSON Clinical Instructor Rosemary Byrne, who led the week-long trip. “But the people were very receptive, very engaged. They had a real thirst for knowledge and the whole experience was very encouraging.”

Since it was the school’s inaugural trip to the DR, a lot of time was spent on relationship building, said Byrne, a certified family nurse practitioner who has provided nursing care to underserved populations in Guatemala, Ecuador and Nicaragua, as well as in Boston.

The BC students brought coloring books and crayons, bubbles and other toys and games to engage the children. “Play is a universal language,” said Byrne.

“They opened up their homes to us and we learned their stories, their music, how they cook and how they live. As is the case with most international immersion trips, we learn more than we bring,” said Byrne, who holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from BC.

The villagers were asked what health issues they wanted to learn more about. They responded: asthma and hypertension, both prevalent problems among children and adults, respectively. The nursing students gave presentations on these topics, with visual aids.

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A CSON senior Alexandra Contino measures a villager's blood pressure. Hypertension is a problem in the communities visited by the CSON group. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Bender)

“The teaching lessons were very interactive,” noted Byrne. While awareness of health issues is high among the population, there are physical and financial barriers to addressing and treating these health issues. Environmental factors, such as dust and the smoke from the sugar cane factory, for example, exacerbate asthma symptoms. The nearest health care clinic is four miles away, which includes a half-mile walk to the main road to catch a bus. The cost of transportation and medicine are impediments to getting proper treatment.

“Regardless of their hardships, the people living in the bateyes are some of the happiest, most spirited people I have ever had the pleasure of interacting with. They embody a strong sense of community and an unbreakable bond between families and neighbors,” said CSON senior Sarah Bender.

“The two communities we visited were only a mile apart, but were organized differently and faced different issues. It is important for nurses to be good listeners and good observers,” added Bender. She and the other undergraduates on the trip earned credit toward their community health clinical requirement. Since their return, the students have been working in Jamaica Plain, which has a large Dominican population.

One of trip highlights for Byrne was the BC group’s goodbye to the villagers. Byrne and Clinical Instructor Terri LaCoursiere Zucchero set out on a mission to give members of the community fruit. They found a vendor at an outdoor marketplace and bought a thousand tangerines to distribute to every villager. “It sounds so little,” said Byrne, “but it meant so much.”

Byrne, who teaches a summer Global Health Perspectives course in Ecuador through the Office of International Programs, says the opportunities for nursing students to gain international experience is something that sets the Connell School of Nursing apart from other nursing schools. Plans are underway for a return trip the DR next academic year.

Other students on the CSON trip were: seniors Alexandra Contino, Megan Hopper, Andrea Lopez, Clare Maguire, Kerry O'Rourke and graduate student Rosalinda Barrientos.

View Bender’s video slideshow of the Dominican Republic trip at http://bit.ly/CSONtrip2014