Back to the Basics: Guatemala trip challenges nursing students to learn new diagnostic techniques, empowers future practice

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Learning how to diagnose patients without the ease of modern testing was part of what Murphy hoped her students would gain from the experience.

“They learn to depend on their own assessment skills, and you watch their confidence grow over the week,” she says. “It’s fun to watch them struggle through seeing four patients on Monday and be able to see 20 on Friday and do so in a really organized and effective way. It’s a neat thing to watch them grow.”

Aside from pelvic exams and cervical cancer screenings, the nurses treated high blood pressure, diabetes, skin infections, cerumen-impacted ears, old cooking fire injuries, malnutrition, parasites, anemia and more. They also assisted community members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to a volcano eruption in June.

The lack of preventive care and services for Guatemala’s under-resourced communities reminded Njihi of rural areas of Kenya, his birthplace, and the experience reinforced his desire to do medical missionary work. For Palmer, seeing the Guatemalans working to improve care within their country had a profound but opposite influence.

“There was a lot of personal growth that came from this trip,” she says. “It switches you out of the ‘I want to go abroad and help people’ and refocuses you on underserved populations back at home.”

According to Murphy, nursing students who study abroad are more likely to work with underserved populations in the U.S., have expanded attitudes on diversity, learn about culture and cultural humility and increase their skills as practitioners. She hopes to include College of Optometry students on future trips, which will teach all involved how to be effective on an interdisciplinary team.

“Another benefit for students is that the trip makes them remember why they became nurses,” she says. “You can get overwhelmed with practice here. That was the thing I heard all week long, ‘This has restored my soul. I am so excited to be a nurse again.’”