Nursing students learn skills through hands on experience in Costa Rica

By Kirsten Raper, Chattanooga, Tenn. —

Twelve School of Nursing students and two faculty members spent a week in Costa Rica during the summer delivering medical service to a needy community while gaining service learning experience.

The nursing students who went on the trip, which was from July 21- 28, had to write an essay explaining why they wanted to go as well as what they hoped to accomplish during the trip.

Lauren Reynolds, a senior from Caryville, said she was inspired to apply because of another experience she had. “I have actually been on a mission trip to Mexico, and I absolutely loved it. I thought it would be interesting to help people in a different way, for medical reasons. I knew that if I went, then I could help make a difference,” said Reynolds.

After the students were selected, they raised all of the money needed to go on the trip through a multitude of different fundraisers selling t- shirts and bake sales. Students also partnered with some downtown restaurants that donated a percentage of their proceeds to the students.

The School of Nursing planned the trip with International Service Learning, which is a non- governmental organization that provides volunteers with experience through service learning trips.

Susan Davidson, professor and coordinator of gateway RN-BSN program, said “They were awesome to work with. They were absolutely fantastic. ”

When their plane reached Costa Rica, the group was immediately met by an ISL representative, who stayed with them for their entire trip. The ISL representative served as the group’s interpreter as well as their tour guide.

On Friday, the students had a class on medical Spanish where they got a phrase sheet, which contained English to Spanish translations of words and sayings that they would encounter at the clinic.

“Having even numbers in the group was really nice. The girls teamed up and interviewed each other using the phrases,” said Davidson.

Reynolds said that speaking Spanish was the most challenging part of the trip.

“Sometimes I felt like I was doing really well and then [the locals] would look at me like they didn’t understand me. I think the language barrier was definitely the most difficult part.”

Also during this day, they saw a PowerPoint presentation, which was given by the doctor they would be working with, on the common illnesses and diseases they would see.

On Saturday they went house to house handing out appointment cards and during this time they got to see firsthand how the living conditions in Costa Rica are.

“The houses were made out of corrugated metal and pieces of wood,” Davidson said.  “Some of the metal was rusted and some of it was shiny and brand new and it was all tacked together. Raw sewage was running through the streets. Chickens, goats, pigs, dogs and cats were running around everywhere.”

“When we did the village visit, it really hit me that people actually live like that,” said Reynolds. “Houses were made of metal, pieces of wood and tin, and they were all lined up. Some of them didn’t even have floors. There was garbage everywhere. Some power lines were even at my eye level, and I’m only 5’3’’.

Sunday and Monday were both clinic days. During the days at the clinic, students did things such as asking the patients about their health histories and giving patients physical exams.

Students even got a chance to take turns writing prescriptions, which were then signed off by the pharmacist.

Dr. Davidson said that Tuesday was a “play day” for the group. The group had brought toys for the children with them to Costa Rica to be used on this day.

“The purpose of the play day was to show the kids that doctors and nurses are not scary. We played with sidewalk chalk, jumped roped, played kickball, colored in coloring books, and other things as well,” said Davidson

Wednesday was their recreation day. They did a lot of activities this day, such as zip lining through the rainforest. Then, the next day, which was Thursday, they came back home.

Reynolds said she thinks everyone deserves a chance to help other people.

“I absolutely encourage other students to pursue opportunities like this. I think it gives you a different perspective on everything. It is really easy to take for granted how we live here. Going to other places like Costa Rica, where poverty is completely normal for them is eye opening. I think it is really important that everyone gets to see that and try to make a difference,” said Reynolds.

Reynolds said that the experience was a positive one and she would do it over again if given the chance.

“I would absolutely do this experience again. It was a lot of fun and the people I went with were awesome. I would probably do it 100 times over if I could,” she said.

Alina Hunter-Grah

Alina Hunter-Grah

News Editor

Alina is a junior Communications major with a minor in Political Science from Clarksville, Tenn. Alina is also the official Chattanooga Correspondent for 2nd & Church, a literary magazine based out of Nashville, Tenn. Alina dreams of being an investigative journalist or political reporter.

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