“Throughout my time here we really emphasized cultural diversity, and giving culturally competent care.” The Henry Predolin School of Nursing has offered a unique opportunity in each of the past several years: the Caring for the Children of Cambodia service learning experience. This year’s student cohort of 24 (the largest so far) provided well-care assessments, education, and health screenings for 852 children, and sent 77 children for further care and treatment within the Cambodian health care system.
April Yerges, faculty member and Program Director for Caring, says the required classroom work – both before and after the Winterim experience in Cambodia – is critical, but only goes so far.
“To truly be there in the moment and have to deal with those emotions that arise, and have to deal with these thoughts that had never occurred to them,” is a profound experience, Yerges said.
The students see firsthand how working with the children in Siem Reap “can go from specific issues to really more global concepts that the students are really starting to delve in to.” Those issues are often the tough ones; health and well-being within cultural and economic contexts, and the impact of health disparities and limited resources on health and healthcare.
One of those students is Molly M. ’19. Molly, who just graduated with her BSN, now works at UW Hospital in the psychiatric inpatient unit. She call the experience “amazing.”
“Throughout my time here we really emphasized cultural diversity, and giving culturally competent care,” Molly said. “In other words, providing excellent care for people who don’t come from the same background as you. Cambodia was an excellent way to challenge that.”
Yerges says the curriculum emphasizes a reciprocal approach to global service, and that emphasis is critical, especially for new healthcare professionals like Molly.
“Students at this age want to go out and save the world, so how do we keep that enthusiasm, and taper it with a cultural humility process,” Yerges said. “How do we get away from the ‘white westerner’ stepping in, and instead empower local communities – whether it’s our own local Dane County community, or a rural community in Cambodia? I really love seeing that ‘light bulb.’”
The light bulb is definitely “on” for Molly..
“You see the way that people interact with each other there, and then compare it to the way we interact with each other here – it’s so different,” she said. “Over there they’re always smiling.”
While most of the students in the Caring track are Nursing majors, any student – regardless of academic major - can enroll in the classes, and go on this experience. “The instructors do a really good job of teaching you everything you need to know in order to do your job,” Molly said. “And there are older students as well who will teach you. It’s a good experience if you want to learn about how to be a good nurse or healthcare provider. It’s also really good if you just want to be a good person.”