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Tuesday, March 6, 2018 - 12:45pm

Recently three faculty members from Mercy College’s nursing program traveled to Guatemala to visit potential sites for a new international service-learning project for nursing students. Dr. Miriam Ford and Dr. Susan Moscou, co-interim directors of the nursing program in the School of Health and Natural Sciences, and Dr. Rita Neilan, assistant professor of nursing, visited four facilities in Guatemala to assess their suitability as service-learning sites. The team’s findings were published earlier this year in the Journal of the New York State Nurses Association.

Service-learning is an immersive learning approach in which students apply classroom knowledge and skills to serving the real-world needs of a community. Whether the service-learning community is a mile away or across the globe, it affords students a unique opportunity to learn while working with clinical professionals, decision makers and community members. “By immersing themselves in an unfamiliar culture, the students gain a richer grounding in their discussions of health disparities, social services, and health policy,” Ford observed. 

The team chose Guatemala, a small Central American country bordered by Mexico, the Caribbean and Honduras, for its cultural diversity and great need. Afflicted by political strife, natural disasters and limited access to health care, Guatemala’s health system is ranked by the World Health Organization as 78 out of 191 countries.

The team visited a national hospital, two rural clinics and a community center that provides health and human rights education. “There is great benefit from learning about and participating in healthcare systems in other parts of the world,” said Ford. “Service-learning also helps students and faculty develop a broader awareness of different cultures, expanding their knowledge of what their patient may face—culturally, economically, and politically.”

Mercy’s nursing program consists of a four-year BS in nursing, an RN-BS completion program, and two graduate programs (nursing education and nursing administration). The group concluded that the service-learning sites they explored in Guatemala would provide excellent opportunities for students in all tracks.

“Learning about Guatemala’s history, geography, and political landscape will help students better understand how health policies are shaped. It’s a powerful way to experience first-hand how Guatemalans struggle to obtain basic health services that many Americans take for granted,” said Moscou.

“This trip had all the ingredients of an excellent service-learning experience and provided the groundwork for future service-learning projects,” Ford added. “We do recommend that Mercy faculty organize pilot service-learning trips that will better inform our selections and ensure optimal learning.”