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William F. Connell School of Nursing

Thinking globally, exploring locally: An American-Swiss exchange

by debra bradley ruder

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Donna J. Perry (right), global nursing education manager at Massachusetts General Hospital, shows students the Ether Dome painting that depicts the first public surgery using the anesthetic ether. Photograph: Caitlin Cunningham

Touring the Ether Dome at Massachusetts General Hospital the morning of June 28, a group of nursing and pre-med students were absorbed in a historic moment. But it wasn’t the first public demonstration of ether used as a surgical anesthetic, which took place in the celebrated amphitheater in 1846. It was breaking news headlines crawling across the students’ smartphones, reporting that the United States Supreme Court had upheld the Affordable Care Act. After reading the news that the controversial law to expand health care coverage would stand, several students applauded.

The students visited the hospital landmark on the next-to-last day of Global Healthcare: Meeting Challenges and Making Connections, a four-week course that brought together 26 students and 30 faculty from Boston College and two nursing schools in Lausanne, Switzerland (along with one from the University College Dublin School of Nursing), at the Connell School of Nursing (CSON). English- and French-speaking students and faculty spent most of the month exploring issues at the forefront of global health—quality and safety, ethics, violence, and palliative care—particularly as they affect vulnerable populations.

A three-credit elective supported by the Connell Fund, Global Healthcare is designed to expose students to a range of practices and public health challenges, especially in the United States and Switzerland, and to broaden their perspectives as future health care professionals working in a world with vast social and medical problems.

It is a centerpiece of a formal collaboration that the Connell School and the University of Applied Sciences Western Switzerland signed in November 2010, agreeing to exchange teaching and research faculty, jointly develop international academic programs and scientific research projects, and work together on academic publications and research of mutual interest.

“It’s vital for students to understand the world’s problems,” said Colleen Simonelli, the clinical associate professor who developed the curriculum with other Connell School faculty and Swiss colleagues. “Anything we can do to foster critical thinking and enhance students’ powers of observation will make them better health care professionals. I’m grateful to the faculty and other speakers who participated. They recognize the importance of educating our young people to be global thinkers.” She said planning is under way for next summer’s version in Switzerland, which will be open to 16 students and four faculty from Boston College.

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Alfred DeMaria, state epidemiologist and medical director for infectious diseases at the Department of Public Health, leads students through the department’s Hinton State Laboratory. Photograph: Josh Levine
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Kim Edouard ’14 and Haute Ecole de Santé Vaud student Faty Sarah Diamuini rehearse a classroom presentation. Photograph: Lee Pellegrini

Jam-packed days

Sixteen Swiss students from Haute Ecole de Santé Vaud (HESAV) and Haute Ecole de la Santé La Source (ELS) and 10 from Boston College —including six nursing students (five of them undergraduates), three from the College of Arts and Sciences, and one from the Woods College of Advancing Studies—took the intensive course, which met from June 4 to 29. Course material was organized around four themes—palliative care, violence, health care, and ethics—that gave faculty and guest speakers opportunities to share insights from their clinical and scholarly work.

CSON Assistant Professor Melissa Sutherland, for example, described the emotional and health consequences of intimate partner violence (a.k.a. domestic violence) and an “aha” moment, when she realized it is a risk factor for sexually transmitted infections. She urged students to “ask the right questions of your patients—‘Have you been hit, slapped, kicked, punched, or choked?’” and to look at the patient, not the chart, when posing these questions.

Clinical Instructor Terri LaCoursiere Zucchero recounted some of her work with homeless people in Hawaii, many of whom “suffer from chronic illnesses, substance abuse, mental health disorders, and the consequences of living outside, even though Hawaii is beautiful and considered to be paradise,” she said.

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