This summer, Duke University School of Nursing student Rhiann Maiden spent four weeks immersed in the health care and culture of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. As a part of the Master of Science in Nursing degree program, Rhiann traveled to Saint Vincent to gain valuable cultural and hands-on experience that would enhance her specialization as a family practice Nurse Practitioner (NP). Before leaving, Rhiann listed several objectives for her experience. While there, she hoped to learn to identify the roles and responsibilities of the NP in local public health centers, to participate in providing primary health care services in rural and urban areas, to improve her assessment and diagnostic skills, and to expand her knowledge through increased cultural awareness and sensitivity. From speaking with Rhiann when she returned, it’s obvious that her experience in Saint Vincent met all of her expectations -- and then some.
During her experience, Rhiann participated in clinical rotations with a local family nurse practitioner. Days were spent in the hospital or traveling to the various health clinics on the island to meet with and examine patients. Rhiann and the NP conducted clinics devoted to treating asthma and hypertension, providing antenatal care, and promoting child wellness. Working in the health clinics, she learned the importance of incorporating a patient’s culture into the diagnosis and their treatment. “Culture plays a big role in how you treat people,” Rhiann shared with me. “You are a better provider if you focus on culture. Sometimes you have to ask a patient what his or her culture will allow in terms of care. It’s a new perspective.” Understanding the importance of all of the factors that contribute to a person’s medical/health behavior is essential to providing comprehensive, community-based family care.
Outside of the clinic, Rhiann had opportunities to expand her knowledge and gain a new cultural perspective. Her Saint Vincent coworkers were supportive and welcoming, taking time to answer her questions, share local cuisine, and even invite her to universal activities such as birthday gatherings and weddings. Rhiann not only gained experience as a health care provider but discovered a newfound appreciation for the beauty of cultural differences. Rhiann urges students to participate in cultural immersion experiences, especially while they are students, and to expect to be a learner. “I encourage everyone to participate in a cultural immersion experience. You learn so much about yourself when you step outside of your comfort zone,” she said. “Duke offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have an experience that will challenge you in ways you didn’t know it would. But remember, the point is to be uncomfortable-- and to learn and grow from the discomfort.”
- By Faith Burns