This past winter, I participated in The Dominican Republic: Community Health Service Learning Program in Juan Dolio. This program aligned with both my personal and career goals. In addition, for the first time, I was able to combine my passions in health, education, service, and international relations. I was able to work with a team of current and aspiring nurses.
Prior to study abroad, I did not think studying abroad was possible with my rigorous academic obligations as a dual degree major. However, through the Decker School of Nursing and the Office of International Education, I was able to find the perfect program for my interest that did not conflict with my rigorous schedule.
My experience in the Dominican Republic exceeded all my expectations. I knew that this journey would potentially allow me to gain valuable life skills, broaden my worldview, gain familiarity with global principles and acquire nursing skills that will aid in improving my nursing care. While I was able to gain these attributes, along the way I was also able to confront the realities of the lives of people and their situations that differ from my norm. For two weeks, I was able to work with people in a region with limited services and major health challenges. I participated in community visits, worked at the local clinic and then went on to work on two units at the hospital. Throughout this experience, I was most surprised about how much I learned from the communities and people that I worked with. I went into this program with the mindset of serving and make an impact on the lives of others. However, I never thought about how much the people of Juan Dolio could possible teach me and the impact they would make on my life.
One of the biggest challenges I faced during this experience was having thought of not doing enough. Many of the people we worked with, simply could not afford to have adequate healthcare. The first few days I was often angry with myself and was pensive about what more I can do to help with the financial burdens the community members were facing. However, along the way, I had to realize that the best thing for the people in the Dominican Republic was screening and education rather than just money for medications. It was important that we educated the community to utilize the public health services they have available to them. The reality is that we were only there for two weeks and once we leave, we will no longer be able to hand them medication. However, the impact we made and education we gave them can last with them forever.
The most rewarding part of my education abroad experience was the gratitude of the community member and receiving validation that I helped make a difference. Every single person I came into contact with, thanked me and showed their appreciation for the services my team and I provided them. To see the strong sense of resilience, gratitude, and hope in the communities that we worked with was also very rewarding. They do not have much but they all make the best of what they have, help one another and show gratitude for the life they have. I am extremely humbled to have partaken in this life-changing experience.
This insight that I gained from this experience surpassed the personal and academic goals I had prior to the program. I was able to form bonds with others and work effectively with them to tackle global health challenges. This is essential to my career goal of becoming a community health nurse as I will be coming in contact with individuals from a multitude of cultures, ethnicities, and upbringings. This experience has significantly added to my academic experience, enhanced my knowledge on global issues, and allowed me to exchange perspectives with people from different walks of life. The relations I formed, the impact I made and the life lessons I learned from this experience will last for a lifetime.
Florence Nkrumah, a Nursing major, studied on the Dominican Republic: Community Health program in winter 2019.