Nursing students learn in the Nicaraguan jungle

“Lindsay, get up, there is a woman in labor that needs our help.” The voice from the darkness jarred Union College nursing major Lindsay Harrison from her midnight slumber.  As her mind cleared of its sleepy grogginess, suddenly the hot Nicaraguan jungle, the villagers and her Frontier Nursing class came flooding back into her consciousness.

She quickly jumped from her resting place and discovered the disembodied voice belonged to Adam Neep, a Union international rescue and relief student who had come to take her to the laboring mother in the nearby village.

“We took care of the woman in labor all night,” Harrison said. “At one point she became very dehydrated and the doctor prescribed coconut water from one of the trees outside and that’s how we got her hydrated.”

Venturing out of the hospital

Harrison, along with eight other students in Union’s Frontier Nursing class spent spring break serving people in remote Nicaraguan villages—delivering babies, treating parasite infected children, educating and much more—on a ten-day mission trip along with a group of IRR students already in the Central American nation for the semester.

They collaborated with doctors and nurses from a local mission called Wings Over Nicaragua. A clinic offering everything from women’s health services to a pharmacy was set up in six villages—a new village each day—serving anyone in need of medical attention.

“We had pregnant women walking four hours through the jungle just to reach our clinic to get check ups and help,” said Amy Golter, one of the Frontier Nursing instructors. She estimates they cared for nearly 800 patients.

Finding the funding

The students raised more than $30,000 to make the trip possible. “I didn’t think I would be able to go because of the cost,” said Marie Johnson. “But God is amazing and through a pancake feed, selling cookie dough and donation letters sent to family, friends, Union faculty and nursing alumni, I was able to raise all the money that I needed.”

With aspirations to be a world traveler, Johnson decided that it was time to travel outside of the country for the first time in her life. “I was ready for an adventure of a lifetime,” said the senior nursing major. “I knew I wanted to go on a mission trip but I never had the opportunity until I had the chance to take this class.”

We’re not in Nebraska anymore

The Frontier Nursing students were accompanied by instructors Amy Golter and Kristine Follett. Their goal is to prepare students for procedures not normally used by nurses in America such as wilderness medicine and suturing. “Doing health care outside of the U.S. is kind of a shock at first, it’s a very eye opening experience and it changes your views on health care,” said Golter. “We get to do a lot of learning of policies and procedures in nursing school that just really are not critical in developing countries where resources are limited, such as wearing gloves for almost everything.” And students often get the hands-on learning experience that would usually be limited to doctors or advanced practitioners. 

“You learn to improvise a lot and be flexible,” said nursing student Renee Souza. One of Souza’s most critical patients was a young pregnant girl who had not felt her 36-week-old fetus kick in weeks. “It was difficult to communicate with her and get straight answers because we could only talk through the translator,” said Souza. After a fetal monitor failed to pick up a fetal heartbeat, the mother was told to walk for a few minutes and come back for another assessment.

Stress rose after the mother didn’t come back for a check-up. “In America it is abnormal for a mother to lose a baby,” said Souza. “But there it is common for a mother to lose several children throughout her life.”

The mother eventually returned and was told to go to the hospital so the doctor could remove the deceased fetus. “There were no tears or sadness from her like you would see here in the U.S.,” said Souza. “You have to know that not every person you meet will you be able to change to a new point of view. You have to accept them and their beliefs and know what your role is at that moment in time.”

Wings Over Nicaragua was able to provide doctors and nurses to assist the nursing team during clinical days and house visits. “All the doctors had their own clinic groups during our clinic days, but none of them were too busy to take time to teach us,” said Harrison. “That would never happen in a clinical setting in the United States, because doctors don’t really get involved with us like that. If I ask doctors here for anything, they will give me a weird look and redirect me elsewhere.”

Many of the students found instruction from doctors a valuable learning experience. “Those doctors were so appreciative that we want to learn,” said Harrison. “All the doctors really made you feel comfortable when asking questions and they would take their time explaining the disease and treatment.”

Forever changed

For many of the nursing students, nothing has been the same since setting foot back on American soil. The memories that were formed in a little over a week have forever changed the outlook on healthcare and general life in America. “I will never again take clean gloves, running water, sanitization and an unlimited supply of medication and supplies for granted,” said Johnson. “It was even a bit difficult to get used to being in America again, I felt spoiled just taking a shower.”

“I learned that we have to find ways to treat anyone looking for care,” said Marissa Peacock. “I need to be the best nurse that I can be and give my patients awesome, compassionate care.”