Clinical training in Ecuador: Living and learning in Spanish
by debra bradley ruder, photographs by ivan kashinsky
When a little girl arrived at the community health center with a mouthful of blood from a playground spill, Beth Harvey ’13 leapt up. While the center’s dentist gave the child medicine to prevent infection and another staff member tracked down her mother, Harvey cleaned the girl’s gums and face and did her best to provide comfort. Messy emergencies are a routine part of many Connell School of Nursing students’ clinical assignments. This one, however, took place in Ecuador. The entire exchange was in Spanish.
“I was amazed at the amount of trust people put in me,” Harvey recalls. “I felt accomplished that I was able to communicate and get the girl in better shape than when she came in.”
Harvey spent the fall 2011 semester in the small South American country, immersing herself in the language and culture while building her nursing skills. Connell School undergraduates, like many of their Boston College classmates, have been going to Ecuador for years through Boston College’s Office of International Programs. They take core and elective courses at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ).
CSON is among the minority of baccalaureate nursing schools in the United States that offer semester-long international learning opportunities (see sidebar). Boston College recently expanded its Ecuadorian program, adding a clinical nursing component that allows students to fulfill the community nursing requirement that is usually completed in Boston during senior year.
Harvey and five of her Connell School classmates, who spent the spring semester in Ecuador, inaugurated the program during the 2011–12 academic year. They enjoyed traditional study abroad opportunities—staying with host families, exploring a new culture and country—while getting hands-on experience in schools and health care centers serving Ecuador’s rural poor.
The nursing school’s goal, says Associate Dean Catherine Read, is to encourage students to “improve their Spanish (both conversational and medical), deepen their understanding of community nursing and global health, and generally broaden their horizons.” That, she adds, is “an experience you can’t get unless you go there. They’ll see the challenges people face, as well as their resilience.”
Ecuador was an alluring destination for Harvey, who studied Spanish in high school and is pursuing a minor in Hispanic studies. (Her sister Erin ’12, a double major in English and Hispanic studies, spent a semester in Ecuador last year.) An independent country of 14 million people on the northwestern coast of South America, Ecuador has an ethnically mixed population that includes people of Spanish and South American Indian descent. Its culture, traditions, and natural wonders like the Galápagos Islands and Amazon rainforest attract tourists from around the world. On the other hand, more than one-half the country’s rural population is impoverished—beset by illiteracy, infant mortality, malnutrition, infectious diseases, and other problems common in poor communities.
It is impossible to ignore the country’s economic inequality, says Harvey. “I would be on the public bus with people trying to make a living selling chocolates or mandarin oranges. Then we’d get to the university, and people would have their Blackberrys and designer jeans and nice cars,” she recalls.