Nursing in a New Environment

Eighteen nursing students from San Jose State University (SJSU) spent the summer building their public health resumé at St. George’s University in Grenada as part of a more than five-year partnership between the institutions. SGU hosted the SJSU students on the True Blue campus, providing an opportunity for the California nursing students to enhance their leadership skills, professional development, and management skills, all within a cultural context.

Deborah Nelson, a nursing lecturer at the Valley Foundation School of Nursing at San Jose State, was one of the three faculty members escorting the students on the study abroad course to Grenada. After a 37-year-long career, the retired nurse joined SJSU 12 years ago and has been a part of its Global Service Learning in Nursing program since its inception.

“The program primarily focuses on cultural competence, collaboration, and community-needs assessment,” said Ms. Nelson. “We’re not here to do what we think we need to do; we’re here to find out what the Grenadian community needs from us and what they want us to do. As a partner, SGU provides a cultural atmosphere that engages interaction between our students and both the local nurses and nursing students at the University. We are fortunate to have this partnership and this continued sustainable program.”

According to Ms. Nelson, this is one of the first programs of its kind in the US to offer credits towards a major, which grants the SJSU students the opportunity to graduate one semester earlier. She believes that with the current nursing shortage in the US and the SJSU students’ desire to enter the nursing profession, this program is highly beneficial to the future nurses.

“Additionally, our students are here learning from another culture and being aware of others and that they are the ‘other’,” added Ms. Nelson. “It’s just transformational. I’ve seen it over and over each year. To work alongside other nursing students and to find out that they have similarities as well as differences is key to their success. It’s amazing for me to see this as an educator, and it brings me back every year.”

Among those who participated in the program was Kaelyn Fetters, a third-year nursing student currently completing her final year at San Jose State. Ms. Fetters hopes that, upon returning to the US and passing the national nursing exams, she and her fellow classmates will become licensed nurses. Her goal is to start out as an emergency room nurse at a hospital back home, providing care and various diagnoses to a diverse population.

“I immediately knew I wanted to participate in this program. The idea of being able to travel abroad and be enveloped in a culture so different from my own was something I could not pass up,” said Ms. Fetters. “Throughout this journey, I feel like we’ve learned how to take what we’ve been taught as nursing students in California and bring it over here to Grenada while picking up diverse techniques and a different perspective in Grenada that we can bring back to the US.”

The students spent three weeks immersed in the Grenadian culture, where they worked with caregivers at various clinical sites and held a full day of classes on professional development at the Grenada General Hospital. Along with SGU nursing students, they visited the St. Martin Home for the Aged, Grenada Planned Parenthood, the Dorothy Hopkins Home, and conducted personal home visits to the Mont Tout and Limes communities. The students completed their clinical rotations by attending a health fair in Carriacou where the SGU and SJSU teams collaborated to provide screenings for blood pressure and blood sugar, disseminated free condoms, and took part in sexual education discussions on topics such as STD prevention and rapid HIV testing.

“What we’ve noticed over the five years of our partnership is that not only do the SJSU students benefit from learning from a different culture but our SGU nursing students are really improving their cultural competency as well,” stated Jennifer Solomon, Chair and Director, Nursing and Allied Health Sciences, SGU. “We can see the maturity in the way they are looking internally at their own bias and some of the assumptions that we all make in society and really are becoming the amazing nurses they want to be.

“In addition to the SJSU students visiting Grenada, as part of this course, we also offer the opportunity for our SGU nursing students to be global citizens as well,” she added. “They get the chance to travel abroad to the US or UK to obtain that global perspective and have that interaction with someone from a completely different background while learning about the healthcare system in another country. This is such a great advantage for them.”

– Ray-Donna Peters