For the past five years, senior nursing students taking the summer Nursing Care of Children course have spent a week in the poorest areas of the Dominican Republic as part of their clinical/lab experience. In partnership with GO Ministries Louisville, these students provide health education, conduct head-to-toe physical assessments of children and document child health care trends.
GO Ministries has used this information to begin a pediatric multivitamin campaign; apply for funds from the Dominican government to treat identified health issues; provide much-needed money to complete a GO Ministries Medical Clinic; and direct medical teams to those most in need of help. In addition, Supplies Over Seas has provided the students with thousands of pounds of surplus medical supplies, and the Louisville Water Company and Kentucky Dental Association have donated materials so the students can take the SmileKentucky dental-health initiative to the Dominican Republic.
Nursing students say the trip dramatically changes their lives by taking them outside their comfort zones. They develop confidence in themselves, grow in cultural sensitivity, hone their leadership skills and learn how to be change agents. Most important, they discover that nursing is much more than a science.
“I discovered the crossroad where passion meets the classroom,” said Lynn Costello ’16. That passion opened a door not just to a career, but to a calling. Lynn returned to the Dominican Republic in the summer after graduation, and this past summer, she was part of the very first combined alumni and nursing student team to make the trip.
In addition to Costello, three other full-time RNs who took the trip as students—Katie Casale ’16, Brennon Quick ’17 and Lyndsay Strohmeier ’17—joined seven current Bellarmine nursing students in the Dominican Republic.
“It was such a unique and reflective experience to walk alongside current students who were going through a special trip that few understand,” said Costello, who served as GO Ministries co-facilitator for this year’s Bellarmine team, and who has further committed to two years of service as an RN volunteer. “We were able to provide insight and support for these students. They were not only practicing their nursing skills but also allowing their hearts and minds to be shaped by seeing the art of nursing in action.”
Casale said her initial trip to the Dominican Republic forever changed her life. “The trip taught me the art of nursing: how compassion, empathy and interaction are gained through experience, rather than in a classroom,” she said.
She developed a deep respect for cultural awareness and for those with language differences in the USA. She is now in the process of obtaining her medical interpreter license in Spanish. “Being able to communicate with patients in some of the most frightening moments of their lives is crucial.”
Bellarmine nursing’s partnership with GO Ministries “has provided me with a way to answer God’s call to service,” said Quick, who has continued to volunteer for the organization and initiated a “Donate One Shift a Month” campaign to help support Dominican nurses working with GO Ministries. As facilitator for the Bellarmine team in the Dominican Republic, he demonstrated leadership, love, compassion, expertise and dedication to the mission.
Strohmeier said her trip to the Dominican Republic as a student was the beginning of who she is today. Initially she was nervous, excited, anxious and overwhelmed. “Being in a different world, culture and mindset was an absolute whirlwind; it’s almost indescribable,” she said. “I felt like everything flew by the first time I went to the DR, and I just wanted so much more. Being able to go back as a mentor and alum was even more fulfilling than I could have imagined.”
The most exciting part of the trip, she said, was watching the students grow, learn and change while really experiencing the culture of the Dominican Republic. “It’s always so bittersweet to come home, and this time was no different, but having that same feeling of wanting to serve and be back with that community will keep me going back year after year.”
Community is a feeling of fellowship that comes through sharing attitudes, interests and goals. It is about making connections where you did not know connections existed. Most important, community is alumni making connections with undergraduate students. The Dominican Republic experience will stay in the hearts of all involved for many years to come.
By Pat McEachron
Pat McEachron MSN, RN is a clinical instructor in the Donna and Allan Lansing School of Nursing and Clinical Sciences at Bellarmine University.