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Graduate Students in Nursing Immerse Themselves in Brazil’s Health Care System

Posted 12/17/2014
Posted by David Isgur

“I thought it would be a great opportunity to see how health care is provided in another country, but I learned a lot more than I expected,” says Elizabeth Orejuela, a graduate student in the nursing program at the University of Hartford’s College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions.  Orejuela was one of 17 students and two instructors who spent a week in Brazil in early November studying and observing at two university hospitals there.

Graduate Students in Nursing gather before leaving for their trip to Brazil“It was awesome, life-changing, eye-opening,” adds Amy Krauth, who also went on the trip, which took place from November 1 to 9 and was offered as a one-credit course.  “It really opened my eyes to how important the career of nursing is and the impact that nurses can have on patients and throughout the health care system.”

All of the University of Hartford graduate students on the trip are working nurses who have returned to the classroom to obtain an advanced degree. Among the opportunities that this trip offered to these graduate students was time to meet with nursing students and faculty at Rio de Janeiro State University (in Portuguese, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro) and Federal University of Santa Catarina (Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina); time to observe how health care services are being provided to Brazilian residents; time to visit some of Brazil’s tourist sites; and, perhaps most importantly, time to bond with their classmates.

Karen Breda, third from right, and others talk with their Brazilian health care counterparts.“It was an amazing group,” said Karen Breda, an associate professor of nursing who organized and led the trip. The trip grew out of Breda’s research collaboration with the deans of the two universities that the students visited.  “The students ranged in age from 23 to 50, and they all work in different areas in the U.S. health care system,” she said, adding that about half the members of the group had never been outside the U.S. before.

“I am an older student who went back to school to earn my master’s degree, and it was always a dream to do a study abroad trip, so I jumped at the chance to go,” said Nancy Napolitano, who has been a nurse since 1981, working in a variety of settings from hospital emergency rooms to home health nursing. “I had taken Professor Breda’s ‘Globalization and Health’ course, and this trip was a perfect extension of that — seeing in action what we had read about in books.”

“We had time at the universities to really talk to the nursing students there,” Napolitano added. “They were also very interested in us and our educational system. It was a really good give-and-take among professionals.”

Graduate students in Nursing, in their hospital gear, listen to information froma Brazilian health care professional“The most important thing I learned was the value that the Brazilian system places on health and wellness promotion and the role that nurses play in that,” said Orejuela, who currently works in a community health center in Hartford. “It was great to learn about the nursing profession in other countries and cultures. That was very empowering for us.”

Krauth, who is 23, was intrigued to meet nurses in Brazil who were her age and who are currently working on their doctoral degrees in nursing, “while our group had a number of nurses who had worked in the nursing field for 20 years before going back to school to get their master’s degrees.”

She noted that spending a week with her classmates was an education itself. “I got a lot of life advice and perspective from people who are experienced nurses,” Krauth said. “It was such a diverse group. I learned so much just from spending time with them.”

Breda’s goal with the trip was not just to open her students’ eyes to health care practices in other countries, but also to create a true academic partnership between the University of Hartford and the Brazilian faculty and students. “This is designed to be a collaborative partnership that will link our students with graduate student partners in Brazil who have similar clinical or research interests and expertise,” Breda said. “It provides participants with the opportunity to learn from Brazilian colleagues about current research innovations in their specialty areas and to build joint initiatives intended to benefit both US and Brazilian participants.”  

“We loved having you, USA nurses, with us these days,” said Dr. Helena David, PhD, RN, dean of the nursing school at Rio de Janeiro State University. “Our meeting has resulted in more than academic achievements. Our students and professors were amazed to exchange experiences and perspectives,” she said, adding that she would welcome more opportunities for the two groups to collaborate directly.

Students taking part in the course in Brazil were: Jennifer Barrett, Diane Bordonaro, Patricia Bucknor-Ferron, Melissa Dabkowski, Lisa Hageman, Amy Krauth, Kristin Loranger, Renee Malaro, Patricia Marteka, Mary McLaughlin, Melissa Monarca, Nancy Napolitano, Elizabeth Nielsen, Elizabeth Orejuela, Selma Rosa, Jennifer Rossman, and Harriet Tsombanos. Also part of the group was Karri Davis, a graduate of the MSN program and currently a doctoral candidate at Fairfield University, who went as Breda’s teaching assistant.