Within a month of receiving their high school diplomas, six students from Future Nurses Clubs at area high schools traveled through Costa Rica for two weeks as part of Georgia Southern University’s annual Nursing Study Abroad program.
The June 2-16 working trip put aspiring nurses in touch with people from a different culture — and, more specifically, their feet. This was the fourth summer that Dr. Marian Tabi, an associate professor of nursing, has led a group of GSU nursing and prenursing students to Costa Rica for a service learning experience. Diabetes care and foot health are always the focus.
But this was the first year that graduating high school students, from Future Nurses Clubs sponsored by the Magnolia Coastlands Area Health Education Center, have been included.
“I learned that communication is super-important, especially when you’re in another country, because they don’t speak the same language most of the time,” 2012 Southeast Bulloch High School graduate Deirdre Devlin said. “So you have to adjust, show them ways to say what you’re going to say and ask them questions.”
Devlin, 18, took one year of Spanish classes in high school but, like other students on the trip, had to improvise and learn as she went.
Shiamanté Grimes, also 18, made her first plane flight, as well as her first journey out of the U.S. Stressed by the flight and unfamiliar surroundings, she had a sleepless first night in Costa Rica, but then found much to like.
“The food was excellent. The showers were cold, but they warmed them up just for us. It was fun,” Grimes said.
In environmentally conscious Costa Rica, many homes use solar power, which helps explain the cold showers. But the weather was generally warm, like Miami, Grimes said, except for a colder region the students entered on a visit to a volcano.
Grimes graduated in May from Jenkins County High School, where she had taken two years of Spanish courses. But she also took a brief series of special Spanish classes offered at Georgia Southern for students in the study-abroad program. These covered vocabulary not emphasized in high school classes, such as the Spanish words for “foot” and “arm.”
“In high school, you learn, like, the food and the way they dress, how to say ‘señor,’ ‘señorita’ and all that, where in this class you learned the body parts, how to say ‘blood pressure,’ important parts of what we were going to need in Costa Rica,” Grimes said.
Overcoming culture shock and language difficulties is part of the program’s purpose. Students roomed with host families who spoke no English.
“The idea is to get students exposed on the cultural competencies part of nursing,” Tabi said. “In order for us to be able to work with diverse populations, we need to be culturally cognizant so we can provide better care.”
Other Future Nurses Club students who participated included ShaVaughna Manderville, Raven Golphin, Willis Brookins and Shannon Eason, all 2012 graduates of Screven County High School.
The group, which also included 13 university students, completed a four-week course: two weeks of preparatory study and the two weeks in Costa Rica. Arriving first at Jardines de Moravia, a city in the province of San José, they went on to visit six of Costa Rica’s seven provinces.
Costa Rica, one-third the size of Georgia, spans the Central American isthmus, with coastal plains on both sides and rugged mountains in the middle.
The future nurses visited nursing centers where they checked patients’ blood pressure, blood sugar and weight, assessed the health of their feet, gave foot massages and trimmed their nails. For women, the service even extended to painting their nails. Despite the limited conversation between English-speaking students and Spanish-speaking patients, students understood that their work was appreciated.
“It really touched me because we were at a nursing home, and the head of the nursing home called us angels because if we weren’t there to help and look at these people for feet exams and everything, nobody else would come,” Devlin said.
The trip wasn’t all work. Students went zip-lining in the rain forest and snorkeling in a resort area called Flamingo Beach.
Costa Rica is one of the most economically developed countries in Latin America. When the study-abroad program was launched, the country was chosen because it is relatively close and because the university already had contacts there, Tabi said.
Travel, meals and other costs for the trip totaled $3,100 per person. All the graduating high school students had their participation funded by scholarships.
GSU students pay, but many receive some scholarship money for the program, Tabi said. The university students also pay tuition and earn credit for two courses totaling six semester hours.
This year, the recent high school graduates did not receive college credit.
“We’re hoping that in the future we’ll be able to because it would be a really good benefit for them to enter first semester with six credits under their belts,” Tabi said.
The program brochure for high school seniors stated that preference would be given to those who had applied or been accepted at Georgia Southern. However, they were not required to enroll in the university.
In fact, Devlin has enrolled at Piedmont College and Grimes will attend Augusta State University. But both plan to study nursing.
The GSU School of Nursing and Magnolia Coastlands Area Health Education Center work together in SCRUBS, an ongoing program funded by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to increase diversity in the nursing profession.
While the School of Nursing hosts programs for prenursing and nursing students at the university, the Magnolia Coastlands health center, also based at Georgia Southern, reaches out to high schools and middle schools in its 39-county service area, said Lisa Hunt, the center’s health careers recruiter. A recent summer Health Career Camp on the GSU campus was another health center program for high school students.
The center currently sponsors Future Nurses Clubs at Portal Middle High School and Southeast Bulloch, Jenkins County and Screven County high schools. To take part in monthly meetings and other activities, students must maintain at least a 2.8 GPA, Hunt said.
To qualify for the study abroad, Future Nurses Club members wrote essays and submitted letters of recommendation.
At the university, SCRUBS is also called RUN 2 Nursing, pronounced “Are you into nursing?” The program offers yearly scholarships of up to $1,000 for prenursing students and up to $2,000 for students admitted to the School of Nursing. A mentoring program and tutoring in anatomy, physiology and chemistry are also available.
Although program literature refers to recruiting minority students as the goal, SCRUBS is open to students of all races. The qualifying criteria are economic or educational disadvantage, such as being in the first generation in a family to go to college.
In 2006, the HRSA awarded SCRUBS an $880,000, three-year grant for increasing diversity in nursing. This has been extended with another three-year grant, now in its second year.