Nursing students in Costa Rica

Last month, 14 junior Nursing students embarked on a weeklong trip to Costa Rica as part of the clinical component of their NU449 Community and Public Health Nursing course. Students gathered data while doing home assessments, and set-up and run health clinics in three Costa Rican communities: Fraijanes, Dulce Nombre, and Los Huevitos. 

The highly-anticipated trip took students out of their comfort zones, enhancing their nursing skills, as well as their view of community and public health nursing. 

“When I first heard about the [trip], I immediately wanted to know more information,” said Natalie Hanlon ‘24. “I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to travel to a new country while also utilizing my nursing education.”

The Community and Public Health class itself focuses on public health issues, such as the global healthcare environment and working with vulnerable populations. The goal is for students to explore the role of the nurse on a global scale. The clinical placement in Costa Rica gave students the opportunity to apply the concepts they learn about in the classroom first-hand. 

During their clinical placement, students further developed their nursing skills by taking a patient’s comprehensive medical history, completing a head-to-toe assessment, and delivering a full report to the physician at the clinic. 

“Most of the patients who came to the clinic had never seen a nurse or doctor before so we knew that we needed to be thorough and in-depth with our assessment,” reflected Hanlon. “Our education [thus far] has given us the ability to make a nursing diagnosis and understand the signs and symptoms that lead us to that conclusion.”

Hanlon and her peers learned new skills in Costa Rica as well. As the patients at the clinic ranged in age from infants to elder adults, Hanlon assessed her first pediatric patient on the trip, an experience she believes will prepare her well for the pediatric nursing course at the College. 

Nursing students in Costa Rica

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the trip was the opportunity to practice nursing in a healthcare system outside of the United States. Students determined how sociocultural factors such as housing can impact a person’s health. 

“Beyond the development of their hands-on nursing skills, the students gained a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by vulnerable populations,” said Nursing Professor Pamela Preston, who accompanied the students on the trip along with Professor Melissa Brodeur. 

“I was surprised at how few resources and supplies are available to those in Costa Rica compared to the United States,” remarked Hanlon. 

The glimpse into another healthcare system reshaped students’ understanding of what it means to provide care at home and abroad. Hanlon and her peers gained experiences that are not available in the typical clinical rotation, putting their skills to the test in a challenging and unfamiliar setting.

The level of care provided on the trip falls in line with the Saint Anselm Nursing program’s philosophy to “provide compassionate, safe, and equitable care based on the highest standards of nursing practice and scientific evidence,” noted Preston. 

Many of the patients at the free clinic expressed gratitude at receiving such high-quality care. “Seeing the smiles on the patient's faces after they left our clinic gave me so much joy and told me that we had made a difference in their lives,” said Hanlon.

As with any study abroad experience, the students were immersed in a new language and culture during their time in Costa Rica. They returned home to the Hilltop with an elevated worldview that will empower them throughout their education and future nursing career. 

“Anselmians who go abroad on this program are afforded an opportunity to explore and learn about the world, and to reflect upon their place in it,” said Director of Study Abroad and International Programs Jane Bjerklie-Barry. “They are invited to engage outside their comfort zone in developing communities, which gives them the chance to better understand the way they want to impact the world within their profession.”

“This trip has reaffirmed my decision to become a nurse. I feel so blessed that I had the opportunity to provide healthcare to individuals who are in dire need of it and do not have access,” said Hanlon.