SHP students gain clinical practice, serve poor abroad

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Students of the School of Health Professions, SHP, now have the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua and Mexico for international experience.

During winter break, approximately 20 students and faculty travel to Nicaragua for 12 days. The program started in 2007, with only a few students, but now students from the schools of Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Pharmacy, Dental Health Sciences and Physicians Assistance have taken the opportunity to travel.

Pacific University has teamed up with the Jessie F. Richardson foundation, a non-profit organization with the goal of providing quality care for seniors and those with special needs, both domestically and abroad. Their international work abroad is focused in Nicaragua.

Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and healthcare resources are limited. Most of Nicaragua’s government funding is dedicated to children’s services, leaving minimal funds for the elderly. Elderly Centers, known as hogars, rely on foreign aid, charity, donations and municipal assistance.

In a country with a population of almost 6 million and a life expectancy of 71.5 years, there are only four gerontologists in Nicaragua. The Pacific team teaches healthcare workers how to adequately care for seniors.
Much of the elderly population suffers from various health conditions due to a lifetime of poverty. Heart disease, diabetes, poor vision and gum disease are common health problems among Nicaraguan seniors.

Pacific students and faculty are immersed in clinical practice while abroad. They travel to Nicaragua with the goal of establishing enduring health services in the community. Because the Pacific team only stays for a short time, they want to engage in activities that will positively impact the population long-term.

Most healthcare providers in hogars lack medical training and Pacific students and faculty educate the staff in caring for the elderly. They work with local healthcare providers to create an awareness of the challenges the elderly population face in Nicaragua.

Meeting with political and religious officials in order to gain their support proved beneficial in establishing positive working relationships.

Pacific’s team also established a group for healthy elders who are still able to live at home. Pacific faculty and students teach these seniors how to stay healthy in their homes. In exchange, they volunteer at the hogars engaging in activities and continue to do so even after Pacific staff and students leave.

“We go away, but all these things are still happening,” said Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy Tiffany Boggis.
Students and professors gather toiletries before they leave the United States to bring with them to distribute to their patients. Basic toiletries and pharmaceuticals are difficult to obtain in Nicaragua.

According to Boggis, this experience is unlike any you can get in the classroom and is very beneficial to students.
“Opportunities like this fit well with current trends,” said Boggis. “Any student in any of the health professions programs needs to be culturally competent and to be able to work with those of other health professions programs.”
Interprofessional collaboration between the programs of the SHP is a largely emphasized portion of the international program. Boggis said they do everything they can to promote collaboration and it is a valuable learning experience.
After they apply, the faculty from each department selects students to go on the trip. They look for students who are in good academic standing and are flexible and adaptable team players. Previous language and cultural experience is preferred.

Students also have the opportunity to travel to Guadalajara, Mexico for one month during the summer. Pacific University’s growing partnership with the Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara School of Medicine allows for students to experience healthcare in a different culture. The first two weeks of the course focus on learning Spanish immersion, while the last two weeks of the program focus on clinical experience. Here, students either observe or directly participate in patient care depending on experience level. The program does not have limitations on the number of openings.

Before students travel abroad, students are required to take a prep course. The class focuses on learning basic Spanish phrases that may be helpful. The students also learn about the country’s culture and use Rosetta Stone as a resource.
The cost of the SHP international programs is about $1,500 to travel to Nicaragua and $1,700 to travel to Mexico, excluding airfare.


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