Diabetes is common in Jamaica where the disorder is known as "the sugar." In early May, at a soup kitchen in Negril run by Franciscan friars, Alexa Anastasi '22 was offering blood pressure checks for the locals and was concerned when an older man tested 190/100. She warned him of "the sugar" and suggested he see a doctor. Hours later, as she was leaving, Alexa saw him again. He asked follow-up questions and seemed interested in making lifestyle changes. For the first time, Alexa felt the healing power of a nurse's touch.
"As a nurse, you're going to meet so many people and care about them, you want to be able to acclimate to their culture. This was great practice. We were able to sharpen our skills and make them comfortable while providing care."
Learning about and observing another country's health care system up close, while caring for the community it serves, can have a transformational impact on nursing students. It's just unfortunate that so few students get the chance. Most nursing programs don't afford students the flexibility to spend a semester abroad because the curriculum is too concentrated and regimented. Jenna Thate, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing, has been looking for a way around that inconvenient truth since she started working at Siena in 2017. A year later, Jenna found her partner when Daniel White, Ph.D., director of health professions, was hired.
Thate and White developed NURS 410 and HLTH 320. After students finish either course, they spend one week immersed in a rural Jamaican community. Specifically, the students are working with Franciscan friars to provide health promotion education in the area and develop a new medical clinic. The goal of this collaborative effort between nursing and health studies students is to send Saints to the same Jamaican community twice per year. Future projects could include an oral health assessment and intervention, a new telehealth initiative, science education, and more. Siena's not just passing through, but instead partnering with the friars to have a permanent presence in the community.
"We talk about cultural humility. It's about getting out of your own space, appreciating the strengths but recognizing the challenges. I think it's powerful for nurses or anyone going into health care to see the structural issues that impact access to care outside of their own community."
Daniel White, Ph.D., director of health professions
"It was amazing to be on the ground with the students. Nurses and all health professionals need to understand that we work on a team. The community is a vital member of the team. That's a lesson we can learn from this experience."
Jenna Thate, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing
"When I was looking at different colleges, I spoke with Dr. [Lisa] Lally, and she told me that Siena wanted to give nursing students the chance to experience something like this. As soon as I heard that, I applied to Siena."
Hannah Fuller '22
Hannah will begin her nursing career in July in the emergency department at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. Next week, Alexa begins her job working on the pediatric oncology floor at Albany Medical Center.