Nursing students take pulse of program, culture in Chile

Monday, May 9, 2011

Jenna Johnson, Little Falls, left, and Samantha Rausch, St. Cloud, in Concepción, Chile.

Jenna Johnson, Little Falls, left, and Samantha Rausch, St. Cloud, in Concepción, Chile.

Jenna Johnson and Samantha Rausch couldn't have had a more eye-opening experience during a month-long stint they spent at Universidad de Concepción in Chile.

The St. Cloud State University senior nursing students not only immersed themselves in the nursing program there, but experienced the culture as well.

What they learned included: Chileans have a high level of respect for nurses, similar to how doctors are sometimes revered in the U.S.

The physical contact between nurses and patients is very influential on the care that is given. "Physical boundaries are less restricted and personal space is smaller than we are used to in the United States," Johnson said.

Said Rausch: "We learned so much from the efficiency and resourcefulness of the staff in both the public health agencies and the hospitals and really enjoyed the closeness in patient contact when providing care."

Many of the differences that they noted were a reflection of the differences in cultures.

"In the U.S. we have to enter a password when retrieving medications so that only authorized personnel are handling them and so that usage is documented and tracked," Rausch said. This is not a concern yet in Chile. They do not have a public health issue of IV and prescription drug abuse as we do in the U.S. Wrist bands are not a cost-effective means in the public hospitals. However, they are still used in the private hospitals. Instead of wristbands, nurses rely on the patient, the family and their organization and critical thinking skills to assure that they are providing the correct patient with the correct treatment. Patients are incredibly trusting of their nurses.

Johnson and Rausch not only learned a lot while in Chile, they taught as well.

"We spent a great deal of time providing community education in Concepción," Johnson said, adding that they presented information on the U.S. health system, public health and home care, diabetes, healthy lifestyles and even the topic of bullying.

They also worked with patients, performing everything from wound care to catheter care. They visited several different communities.

"In the short time we were there we worked with three public health agencies that were within 20 miles of each other- some were government funded, others were privately funded- where as in Minnesota, public health agencies cover a large geographical area that is usually countybased, "Rausch said.

Each of the women stayed with a host family and learned that the "family unit is very strong" in Chile. College students, for instance, live with their families and most stay with their families until they are married.

"Many students in Concepción do not drive because they utilize a large and well-organized public transportation system," Johnson said. "It is a point of preference; one of the students we stayed with had a car and chose not to use it because it was easier to take the bus. We really enjoyed using public transportation there."

"The people were among the most gracious, kind, generous and welcoming people we had ever met," Johnson said. "We have thanks and gratitude to our families and the health care workers for being so helpful and accommodating and really giving us so much to bring back that has bettered us as both persons and nurses."

- Story by Mike Nistler '79

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