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BC and Swiss Students and Faculty Come Together for Course on Global Healthcare

connell school of nursing offers special summer exchange course

Students received certificates to mark the successful completion of their Boston College Connell School of Nursing course on global healthcare. (Photos courtesy of Blaise Guinchard)

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. (August 2012) -- This summer the Connell School of Nursing offered a first-of-its-kind course for Boston College that brought together undergraduates and graduate students across disciplines with students and faculty from Europe to study global healthcare issues from policy to patient care.

Sixteen nursing students from the University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland and nine BC undergraduates and one graduate student enrolled in “Global Healthcare: Meeting Challenges and Making Connections,” a three-credit elective course which ran from June 4 to 29. Supported by the Connell Fund, the course focused on four themes: palliative care, violence, health care systems, and ethics and global health care.

The UAS students represented the School of Nursing at the University of Health Sciences (Haute Ecole de Sante Vaud/HESAV) and the Institut et Haute Ecole de la Santé La Source, a private nursing school, both in Lausanne in western Switzerland. Several faculty members, directors and a dean from these institutions also participated in the exchange and taught components of the course.

CSON junior Sarah Webber said she signed up for the course because, “I have always been interested in global health and what part I can one day play in the grand scheme of health systems. All of the outside field trips and activities also made the class enticing, as well as the opportunity to work with the Swiss faculty and students.”

“We have a great relationship with the Swiss schools. Our faculty and their faculty like to collaborate and to professionally move both schools forward by sharing information and looking at best practices,” said Clinical Associate Professor of Nursing Colleen Simonelli, who organized the summer course and traveled to Lausanne with CSON undergraduates two years ago to participate in the UAS’s Summer Institute on healthcare.

The course offered presentations on the history of healthcare in both countries. Similar in size to Massachusetts, Switzerland requires its residents to have health insurance, which is purchased privately. Faculty members from both BC and Switzerland agreed that healthcare in their respective countries is expensive. While there was a perception among some participants that access to healthcare was superior in Switzerland, most BC participants said the relatively small size and affluence of Switzerland was a factor in the level of access and it was difficult to compare it to the vastly larger and more diverse United States.


Other topics covered in the course included pediatric palliative care, human rights, patients with dementia, domestic violence, healthcare disparities, postpartum depression, and victimization in hospitals, among many others.

Patrick Van Gele, the dean of the school of nursing at HESAV, had high praise for the BC course. “We have had good dynamics with the Americans and it has been wonderful to interact,” he said.

“The course has been very intense and very rich,” added Blaise Guinchard, a professor of nursing at La Source. See more photos from the exchange course here.

Students also heard from several guest speakers and panelists, including CSON Dean and Professor Susan Gennaro, CSON alumna Mariead Hickey, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Dr. Alfred DeMaria, the director of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The course also featured field trips to Boston’s hallmark healthcare facilities -- Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Children’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital -- and the Veterans Administration Medical Center

The students were the guests of honor at a reception hosted by Swissnex, a science consulate that promotes exchanges between Switzerland and other regions of the world to enhance higher education, science, innovation, technology and the arts.

Switzerland is a great country to partner with, said Simonelli, citing the international flavor of the nation. The Swiss speak French, German and Italian and are very accepting of an alternate language, she said. There are many ex-patriots living and studying in Switzerland. Among the group that attended the BC course were natives of Belgium, Cameroon, and the Czech Republic.

“It was like we had an exchange with the world,” remarked Simonelli.

“This exchange course was an amazing opportunity to share ideas and growth with individuals that I otherwise would never have had the chance to meet,” added Webber.

This intercultural exchange is an example of the global nursing education that is a priority at the Connell School, which will send 16 nursing students to Switzerland next year.

“This is absolutely vital for them as health care practitioners. Even if they don’t step outside of Massachusetts, they have to care globally,” said Simonelli. “You go to Mass General and it’s the United Nations. I had three patients recently, one spoke only Spanish, one spoke Arabic and one spoke French. You can’t be ethnocentric anymore.”

“We really are obliged to teach the next generation better. If we are committed to quality care, that means opening eyes and opening minds.”

In addition to the required readings, students had to make daily reflections on the coursework and solve a criminal case using virtual forensics tools. For their final presentations, the students were divided into mixed US-Swiss groups in order to develop and perform a skit that portrayed a scenario related to one of the major course themes.

The global healthcare course had wide support among the Connell School faculty, the following of whom made presentations: Nancy Allen, Vanessa Battista, Ann Burgess, Rosemary Byrne, Donna Cullinan, Susan DeSanto-Madeya, Holly Fontenot, Stacy Garrity, Pamela Grace, Gennaro, Allyssa Harris, June Horowitz, Natalie McClain, Fr. Richard Ross, Sr. Callista Roy, Judith Shindul-Rothschild, Kelly Stamp, Melissa Sutherland, Patricia Tabloski, Judith Vessey and Terri LaCoursiere Zucchero.

Simonelli was quick to credit support from Gennaro, Vice President for Student Affairs Patrick Rombalski and their staffs as keys to the success of the summer program. According to Simonelli, Rombalski and his staff were “unbelievably helpful” in assuring that the Swiss students felt fully integrated at Boston College and enjoyed their time in Boston. The Swiss students attended a Red Sox game; took a Duck Boat tour; walked Newbury Street and the Freedom Trail; visited the Boston Public Library, Institute of Contemporary Art and  Museum of Fine Arts; toured the Sam Adams Brewery and the Massachusetts State House, and enjoyed a Boston Harbor Cruise.

--Kathleen Sullivan, Office of News & Public Affairs,