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William F. Connell School of Nursing

Clinical training in Ecuador: Living and learning in Spanish

by debra bradley ruder, photographs by ivan kashinsky

Jennifer Maraia ’13 assists a clinic nurse weighing a one-year-old girl.

One of 13 Boston College undergraduates—and the only nursing student—to spend the fall in Ecuador, Harvey took a slate of courses at USFQ, all taught in Spanish. CSON students also take a medical school class, called Integrated Community Development III, that features two clinical assignments, and they learn intensive medical Spanish from Professor Amanda de Grunauer, the resident coordinator for Boston College’s study abroad programs in Ecuador for nearly 20 years.

Connell School faculty are convinced the improved Ecuador program will better prepare nurses, enhancing students’ cultural competence (including thinking on their feet in Spanish) and their abilities in the growing field of community nursing—that is, practice outside the acute-care setting.

“They’ll be more sensitive to the needs of immigrants and refugees, people living in poverty, and those who are different from themselves,” says Donna Cullinan, a clinical assistant professor and community health nurse who leads groups of volunteer nurses on trips to Haiti each year. Adds Read, “These students can be assigned to Spanish-speaking patients in Boston, and they are really marketable when they graduate because of their language skills.”

Read and others say they plan to tweak the curriculum over time, for example by partnering with faculty in Quito to identify research projects for Boston College’s student nurses to pursue there.

The number of U.S. students pursuing study abroad has more than tripled over the past two decades, and almost half of Boston College undergraduates have some kind of international experience before graduation. The Connell School has a special academic track for students planning to spend a semester overseas; this year, 31 CSON juniors—more than one-third of the class—have participated through the University’s own or approved programs, venturing to Italy, Greece, South Africa, and other destinations. (Boston College tuition covers most of the costs.) As of now, Ecuador is the only study abroad program featuring clinical nursing.

Siobhan Tellez ’13 listens to a second-grader’s heart and lungs during a routine check in a local public school with Meghan Thompson-Wilda ’13 and Jennifer Maraia ’13.

A thousand hugs

During the fall, Harvey spent approximately six hours a week at the one-story community health center in the Andean village of Lumbisi, shadowing a nurse and helping record health histories, check vital signs, bandage wounds, and give vaccinations. Her second clinical assignment was at an elementary school, where she taught seven- and eight-year-olds about hand washing, tooth brushing, toilet paper use, and other healthful habits. “Dental hygiene is a huge issue in Ecuador,” Harvey notes. “The children in my class had cavity-ridden teeth.” On the other hand, although they didn’t have much, “The kids had such a happy spirit. Every day I’d walk into the school, I’d get a thousand different hugs.”

Harvey and her classmates felt that kind of warmth from the families who hosted them for four months, too. “My family was welcoming and loving from the moment they picked me up from the airport,” Jennifer Maraia ’13 wrote from Ecuador this spring. “I have never felt so accepted so instantly. My host mom and I chat, giggle, window shop, and scoff at daily happenings in the same way my real mom and I do.”

For participant Siobhan Tellez ’13, being in Ecuador has reinforced her desire to become a nurse. “Despite the difficulties of communicating past the language barrier, and despite having to learn an entire set of customs and etiquette, I’ve never felt more confident in my career choice,” she reflected in an e-mail. “The people I’ve worked with and helped at the clinic [in Tumbaco] have been so kind, understanding, and grateful for the few things I’ve been able to offer. It has made me very excited for the day I become a practitioner who can offer more to people than just a smile and a shot.” ✹

Siobhan Tellez ’13 shares evening tea with her host family