Selkirk College sends nursing students abroad

After doing a practicum in Guatemala, most nursing students return with a passion to help people at home

by Breanne Massey
Photo of a student nurse demonstrating how to use condoms for the Sipikapense Indigenous group

Student nurses demonstrate how to use condoms with a group of Sipikapense indigenous people. — Photo courtesy Mary Anne Morris

Forty-seven per cent of the third-year nursing students from Selkirk College will be doing practicums in Guatemala.

Gaining experience abroad is popular because there are limited student placements in Canada, and it makes students more competitive when they’re looking for employment opportunities. But going this route offers something else for students.

“Out of the 47 students who have gone so far,” said Mary Ann Morris, the nursing instructor who facilitates these practicums, “only one, so far, has returned to work overseas. The overwhelming majority have come back and said, 'This is where I need to work. I need to work in my own community confronting the very same issues that I did in Guatemala, and I now have a better appreciation about how to go about doing that as a nurse.'”

Morris has been working in Guatemala through a variety of partnerships since the '80s, and she is passionate about students gaining international experience. She said three weeks isn’t long enough to gain the benefits of working abroad, but it is long enough to show students that those competencies are real and that there is a reason to develop them.

“This isn’t in any way a vacation,” said Morris, “it’s a practicum.”

Morris has noticed that students who participate in these placements often return with a greater appreciation for how the very same issues and challenges they faced in Guatemala are more obvious to them when they return to Canada. The students are able to look back and see areas that they need to work on in a deeper way.

Nursing students will be working on health issues with five partners who have work experience in Guatemala between April 24 and May 18, 2012. Practicums will cover topics ranging from occupational health and safety to reproductive health, sexual health, post-traumatic stress, violence in the home, depression and how to incorporate a healthy lifestyle into a practical reality for the people of Guatemala.

“It’s about health management,” said Morris, “it’s not about managing illness.”

Morris monitors the complexities of taking students abroad, and she said that a lot of people ask if their group is making a difference for locals or if it’s perpetuating colonialism, but Morris is confident about the positive impact of the course. She said that the people who work closely with Selkirk College have had long-standing agreements with the college because the focus is on reciprocal partnerships.

For more information about the program, contact Morris by e-mail or phone at 250-365-1383.

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