When a team of University of Indianapolis nursing students and professors arrived in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti, in May 2017, the group was thrust into a first-hand experience of some of the worst health conditions in the world.
In addition to rampant cases of malnutrition and infectious disease, students and faculty faced communication barriers and the challenges of balancing Western medicine with Haitian culture. Nevertheless, they were determined to bring health, and, in some cases, hope, to the patients they served and the Haitian care providers in the Bethesda Medical Clinic and at a mobile medical clinic in a nearby community.
Nursing major Clare Owens said going into Haiti affected the way she looks at nursing. She was able to apply the cultural competency lessons she learned in the classroom at UIndy to her experiences in Haiti.
Students weighed and measured babies, cared for patients in the ER and set up teaching stations for nursing students at the Universite Academie Chretienne D’Haiti (UNACH) to show the birth process, newborn care, postpartum hemorrhage and breastfeeding. They also visited MamaBaby Haiti, a nonprofit birth center and health clinic aimed at reducing the country’s high infant and maternal mortality rate by providing free prenatal, birth, postpartum and gynecological care. At the end of the trip, UIndy students participated in the UNACH nurse capping ceremony, a tradition that translates across cultures.
“Just seeing with my own eyes the conditions that the Haitians live in every day has allowed me to be a hundred times more grateful for what I have,” UIndy nursing student Gloria Perez said. “I think this trip made me a more loving and compassionate person, which I hope will benefit me in my future nursing career.”
Nursing student Cassie Ge shared one of her biggest challenges from the experience.
“It was heartbreaking for me to see people living in a very poor country. My team helped me cope with this reality, and I learned not to dwell on their suffering but to focus on the impact that we were making for them.”
For many students, the humanitarian experience kindled a greater sense of purpose for their lives, in some cases, before they even came home.
“UIndy’s focus on service helped me to retain the information I learned in class, but it also helped me realize that I can use that knowledge to become a better educator and care provider,”
Others were inspired to continue efforts to provide healthcare to locations across the world – where it is needed the most – including at a school in the Ecuador jungle and at an orphanage in Bangladesh.
“Many students come back more thankful for what they have and are able to do in their own lives,” Becca Cartledge, instructor and clinical learning centers coordinator, School of Nursing, explains.
“Some come back with a passion to raise awareness for a need they saw. Some deal with feelings of frustration, anger, or guilt that the average U.S. citizen has more than most around the world. Students plan to go on service-learning trips so that they can make a difference in someone else’s life, but until they go, they don’t understand that they are the ones who are really changed.”