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Nursing Students Explore Health System in Italy

February 26, 2014

Laurie Morrissey
Communications and Marketing
(603) 641-7240

Nursing students in a lab classroom at Saint Anselm CollegeStudents in the nursing course "Cultural Diversity in Health and Illness" will get a first-hand look at how a health care system operates in a foreign country on a unique trip to Rome and Florence, Italy.

Along with Professor Meg Carson and clinical faculty member Laurie Bennett, 24 students will depart for Rome on February 28 and will return on March 9. The group will visit Italian sites associated with health care, from a modern pharmacy to a 1,000-year-old hospital. Discussions and activities will explore the intersection of historical and cultural factors in health behaviors and responses to illness.

According to Carson, nurses have a responsibility to be culturally sensitive in providing health education and acute care since the population of the United States is more culturally diverse than ever.

"We tend to frame our ideas about heath care based on our experience in this country," she says. "First-hand experience with cultural assessment will strengthen students' ability to deliver culturally sensitive nursing care. The health care system is very different in Italy. Students will be able to ask people questions and make comparisons to their own experience."

Junior Matthew Zacchilli sees the journey as a rare opportunity.

"As a nursing major, it is often difficult to study abroad for an entire semester, so this course allows for me and other nursing students to study abroad even if it is only for a short time," he says. He believes the course, and especially the cultural immersion, will help him provide holistic and culturally sensitive care to patients.

Because of Carson's knowledge of Italy, students will be able to interview citizens, hear from an Italian medical professor, and share meals in people's homes. A highlight is visiting a museum at Santa Maria Della Scala, which was established in the 14th century to offer care to pilgrims, assist poor people, and provide for abandoned children.

Carson has led continuing education trips for practicing nurses since 2002, but this is the first time a foreign experience been incorporated into a Saint Anselm nursing course.

Their first-hand look at the different lifestyle and cultural practices that affect human health is valuable, Bennett adds. For example, Italy has an extremely low obesity rate compared with the American obesity rate, and a much higher smoking rate. Bennett is finishing her doctoral thesis on the topic of global engagement, diversity, and health care.