Bringing the World to DUSON: International Elective Enriches Global Perspective

Non-communicable diseases kill 40 million people each year, equivalent to 70 percent of all deaths globally, according to the World Health Organization. The maladies, also known as chronic diseases, include cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes. More importantly, these diseases aren’t limited to the United States.

When most people think about health issues that affect other countries, they often only think about the diseases that are covered in the news or documentaries, such as AIDS or Ebola. However, these countries also have to deal with the same health concerns that we face in America.

The Duke University School of Nursing (DUSON) Office of Global and Community Health Initiatives (OGACHI) introduced a new course in 2016 that explores the patterns of global health and illness. The course is a two-week cultural immersion experience and one of many projects aligned with the School’s goal to strategically optimize research, education and service.

Michael Relf, PhD, RN, ACSN-BC, AACRN, CNE, FAAN, associate dean for Global and Community Health Affairs and course director, works hard to ensure that all global partnerships and experiences are ‘bi-directional’ -- that the culture that we are visiting (or is visiting us) is getting as much from us as (if not more than) we are getting from them. Global health is a two-way street. There are very rare population health topics that only impact one corner of the world.

As OGACHI is currently preparing to receive its second cohort of students in August, we spoke with two faculty members who attended last year’s class that cultivated an enhanced understanding of nursing and global health and explored the impact of the social determinants of health.

Gian Carol Torres, MAN, RN, is an assistant professor with the College of Nursing at the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines. He credits the program with opening his eyes to the fact that health disparities happen in all settings, even in highly developed countries. “When you think of highly developed countries like the United States, Japan or the Netherlands, you don’t necessarily think that these countries experience health disparities,” he said.

“However, they do exist. And as nurses and health care providers, we need to look for and assess the available evidence and resources that would allow us to work together to solve these problems that affect our communities,” Torres said.

In addition to the opportunity to visit Duke and experience the quality education, Torres also learned more on teaching strategies. “Being able to attend this course provided me with better insight in my teaching pedagogy and the program even enhanced my research skills,” he said. “I highly recommend this course to students and faculty. My colleagues and I are excited about participating in the next course offering.”

Maxine Lashley, acting head of the Nursing Department for Barbados Community College in Saint Michael Parish, Barbados, said she learned that health and health care are a universal languages. “All participants were from different countries with some speaking different languages, yet they were able to work together on a common health issue affecting their countries,” she said.

“This showed the influence of culture, which proved that there are some commonalities within various cultures,” said Lashley. “And where there are differences, solutions can be modified to ensure that health care is accessible to all persons in need.”

Lashley said that the global course is an opportunity that other students and faculty should experience. “This course is an opportunity to see the workings of some aspects of the American health care system, experience a different culture, build a network with future nurses from around the world and appreciate your own health care system while looking for ways to improve it,” she said.

While global clinical immersion trips are beneficial in expanding intercultural understandings, this course has provided both international and DUSON Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing students with an opportunity to learn about multiple cultures and other perspectives. Students have credited the course with providing a rich experience where they can collectively make a difference.

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