Nursing Students Gain Unique Education In Haiti

April 23, 2003

The students spent a dozen days in Del Mas, a small suburb of Port au Prince, the capital of Haiti, to help administer health care. They were enrolled in Nursing 386, an OBU January Term course taught by Wanda Robinson, assistant professor of nursing.

Robinson and Norma Harder, OBU assistant professor of nursing, accompanied the student group, which included Keri Atkinson, Harrah; Katherine Bell, Halstead, Kan.; Amy Diekmann, Lee's Summit Mo.; Elizabeth Garrett, Oklahoma City; Lauren Guyer, Edmond; Jessica Martin, Prague; and Amanda Proctor, Gordon, Texas.

They worked at a private hospital owned and administered by a Haitian woman who received her nursing education in the United States.

While in Del Mas, the team lived in a guesthouse which served as temporary housing for soon-to-be adoptive parents in a nearby orphanage. The hospital, guesthouse and orphanage are owned by the same foundation.

After nights of rolling blackouts, with no running water, the group began each day with a half-hour walk to the hospital over a dusty path.

Half of the team worked in an outpatient clinic, vaccinating, dolling out vitamins and assessing conditions -- including the most common ailment, malnutrition.

The other half of the team tended to the hospital's nurseries, changing diapers, and assessing and feeding the children.

A highlight of the journey occurred one hot, humid morning in the nursery, as the students witnessed a birth.

"That is something we would not get to see in the United States," Robinson said.

Guyer, a junior nursing major, agreed that the painkiller-free birth was "nothing less than amazing." "It's nothing like what you see in the movies, especially when you're watching the baby's side and not the mother's," she said. "The doctor walked us all the way through it."

After working mornings at the hospital, the team went to an orphanage or a home for handicapped children. The latter made a deep impression on the team.

"The children are still vivid in my memory," said Bell, a junior nursing major. "One child in particular, Ishmael, stole my heart while we were there.

"It is hard to put into words everything that I learned and experienced over there," Bell said, "but one thing that stands out is the Haitian people's faith. They thanked God for one more day he had given them to live."

The hospital conditions the OBU group worked with were representative of the country's health care system.

The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has an extremely low standard of living compared to the U.S. Some of the problems for the 8.1 million Haitians, as identified by the World Health Organization, include:

· Men can only expect to live to the age of 45 and women to 54, more than a quarter of a century less than life expectancies in the U.S. The child mortality rate is nearly 20 times those of more-developed countries.

· Haitians spend an average of 54 U.S. dollars per person on health care each year, whereas an average American receives $4,500 worth of care annually.

· There are only eight doctors, 11 nurses and one dentist for every 100,000 Haitians. Americans have nearly 280 doctors and almost 100 nurses per 100,000 people. Dentists, too, are much more accessible, with a nearly sixty-fold presence in the United States.

Robinson said many things Americans take for granted were not always a given in Del Mas.

"They don't have a lot of supplies," she said "They highly value what little resources they have. We don't think anything about going through dozens of pairs of rubber gloves in a day, but they have to carefully ration out their supply. They also cannot do laundry as often as we would expect. In a nursery full of babies with cloth diapers, it gets to be a problem."

OBU's School of Nursing sponsors a cross-cultural ministry course every J-term. This is the third year students have traveled to Haiti. Trips also have been made to the Dominican Republic, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispanola with Haiti.

The course, Nursing 386, is titled Cross-Cultural Ministry for a reason, Robinson said.

"We don't go just to learn nursing techniques or to 'show them how it's done,'" she said. "It is very much a cultural trip. We saw excellent basic and focused nursing without all the bells and whistles."

"We didn't go on vacation," Guyer echoed.

Although they can't repeat the course for credit, students said they wouldn't hesitate embarking on another similar trip.

"I'd go back in a heartbeat," Bell said.