Bringing together nursing students, faculty members, and a CEO in an international setting doesn’t always require weeks of planning to have an inspirational outcome.
Nursing students and faculty members from Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia, USA, met a study-abroad group from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, USA, while attending an International Council of Nurses orientation on the first day of the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. At a luncheon the next day, Pamela Cangelosi, PhD, RN, CNE, ANEF, associate dean for academics at Shenandoah, saw Patricia Thompson, EdD, RN, FAAN, chief executive officer of the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI), and invited her to join students from both universities for dinner that evening.
“The planning was all done on-site, and it worked out beautifully,” Cangelosi says.
The dinner on 19 May was inspirational and informative for all. “Pat Thompson was so motivating,” notes a Shenandoah student. “She made it clear how, as nurses, we can impact health care worldwide.” Another student says Thompson encouraged the group to “just go for it and be part of something amazing—something that could truly create positive change.”
Thompson spent time talking to each student—individually and in small groups—after the dinner. The occasion was an opportunity for STTI’s CEO to meet directly with students eager to learn more about global aspects of nursing, and Thompson was impressed with the students’ desire to understand the roles of various international nursing groups and to learn more about STTI.
“I enjoyed engaging with these emerging nurse leaders,” Thompson says.“Each one was energetic, goal-oriented, and taking advantage of this opportunity to learn about nursing and global health.”
Kent State’s Global Health Immersion Program
The Kent State (KSU) students—10 from nursing and 10 from public health—were enrolled in a two-week course, “Global Health Immersion,” offered during summer intersession 2015, that covered international aspects of health care and health care policy. Carol Sedlak, PhD, RN, CNS, ONC, CNE, FAAN, director of the MSN Nurse Educator Program at KSU, and Tracey Motter, MSN, RNC, assistant dean for undergraduate programs at KSU, were among faculty members who accompanied students.
During the week of 18 May, the students attended the World Health Assembly (WHA), the highest decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO). The keynote was given by Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, OBE MD, DSc, MScPH, FFPHM, JP, director-general of the World Health Organization. Students met several global health leaders, including Khaga Raj Adhikari, Nepal’s minister for health and population; Vera Nkem Ogbechie of the Nigeria Federal Ministry of Health; Mary H. Kanu, chief nurse, Sierra Leone; and Judith Shamian, PhD, RN, LLD (hon), DSci (hon), FAAN, past president of the Canadian Nurses Association and now president of the International Council of Nurses.
“I was exposed to a variety of cultures, taught the importance of interprofessional collaboration, and educated on prevalent health issues occurring throughout the world,” says Kent State student Oriana Suglia. “I have grown intellectually in ways that I would have never been able to had I not attended the trip. In addition, I was able to meet dozens of highly educated individuals, including Dr. Pat Thompson, who greatly impacted my outlook on world health care as well as the art and science of nursing.”
During the second week of the trip, Kent State students met with leaders of several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including the International AIDS Society, Doctors Without Borders, and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.
Goals for the trip included broadening students’ thinking and appreciation for global health challenges; learning how global health care policies are developed and carried out in developing nations, including risks and barriers to implementing policies; and understanding cultural differences.
Kent State student Elan Caruso calls the trip a life-changing experience. “While in Geneva, my eyes were opened to so many opportunities, new views on health care, and a desire to work at an international level.”
Rachael McClain would definitely encourage other students to take the course. “Seeing health from a global perspective,” she says, “drives you to work in a way that will improve your community and, hopefully, your world.”
“The lessons learned and the encounters I had with several inspirational health care workers were most meaningful to me,” observes Erica Eckard. “I truly learned over and over again each day to live life and work hard toward my goals as a future nurse—not just for myself, but for the many lives I am capable of helping.”
Shenandoah’s Global Experiential Learning Program
The Shenandoah University students traveled to Switzerland primarily to attend the World Health Assembly, as part of the university’s Global Experiential Learning Program (GEL), a short-term study-abroad experience offered for academic credit.
“The purpose of the GEL program is to make the world a learning laboratory for students,” Cangelosi says. “This includes deep exploration into individual fields of study, the opportunity to understand the United States’ world viewpoint, the ability to increase skills in cultural sensitivity and flexibility, and the capability to adjust and adapt.”
Cangelosi and Lisa Darsch, MSN, RN, designed the 12-day trip to also include teambuilding experiences in Interlaken
and a visit to Zurich University of Applied Sciences
in Winterthur to gain an understanding of nursing education in Switzerland.
In addition to the overall goals of Shenandoah’s GEL program, course objectives included learning about the World Health Organization’s services and goals, the United Nations Millennium Goals, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank debt-forgiveness programs, and various not-for-profit nongovernmental agencies.
For Shenandoah student Catherine Cassell, the opportunity to meet people who play vital roles in health care and health policy was especially meaningful. “I learned more from the cultural immersion and the interactions with people than a textbook could ever dream to convey,” she says.
“Nursing is involved in nearly every facet of local, state, national, and international life—such as direct patient care, administrative, management, business, and political life, just to mention a few—where we can have a significant impact,” Shenandoah student Heather Najjar notes.
Meeting Pat Thompson provided inspiration for Najjar in planning her personal career path: “If I had any doubt about pursuing my DNP, she certainly provided compelling rationale to do so. She also beautifully articulated the limitless paths, as RNs and advanced practice FNPs, we have on the road ahead.”
A phenomenal opportunity
“Dr. Patricia Thompson is a charismatic nursing leader,” Sedlak says. “She is to be commended for her ability to easily interact with students of all ages and to share the story of her nursing career journey, which serves as an inspiration to students for professional involvement and leadership development as they embark on developing their own career path.”
The global health immersion course gave students a “phenomenal opportunity to engage in interprofessional collaboration in the Geneva, Switzerland, classroom setting,” Sedlak adds. “The study-abroad opportunity provided nursing students examples of the endless possibilities for pursuing a career in global health and for nursing leadership opportunities at Sigma Theta Tau International, the International Council of Nurses, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations.”
—Jane Palmer, assistant editor, Reflections on Nursing Leadership