Student Nurses Learn Lessons of Gratitude in Panama
For two weeks in March, 14 nursing students from the USF College of Nursing learned first-hand how health care is delivered in Panama.
Students doled out health advice and vaccines at community clinics in Chitré where most rural residents go for health services.
Then there were days when students packed up their to-go bags and went door-to-door to track down an indigenous transient population to make sure their vaccination records were updated.
Future Bull nurses said this global health trip was not only an eye-opening experience, but a lesson in gratitude.
Nursing student Nia Joseph said she left Panama with the realization that “not everyone has access to health care and being able to provide it is really a privilege on my part.”
She said having to go house to house accompanied by a community outreach nurses to check in on residents gave her a new perspective on what it means to be a nurse.
“Some of these places were very hard to get to. You can imagine the patient trying to get care. But people were so welcoming and so grateful that we had traveled that far to provide them with care,” Joseph said.
The group would have a list of names and go searching for nomadic villagers who typically live in the mountainous region, but traveled down to Chitré for work.
“We went out in the community and gave vaccinations and health advice to people who didn’t have the access or the transportation to come out to the clinic. It was a really humbling experience. Everyone was very receptive,” said nursing student Noorine Plumber.
Nursing student Courtney Whyte, who was a last-minute add-on to the trip, is thankful for the opportunity to return to Panama after traveling there with the college last spring.
“It was amazing both times. I honestly loved it so much. The Panamanian people make you feel so welcomed and so loved, and I felt I truly made an impact,” she said.
Whyte said one of her cherished moments was when the group visited a one-room school house and offered grandparents, parents and young children lessons in nutrition and hygiene. They adopted the school and will be returning next year with donations and supplies based on the school’s needs.
In return, mothers made the group tiny corn fritters and watermelon juice as a thank-you. The student nurses were moved by their generosity.
“The love and the gratitude they had is something that I will take away. We did not expect anything. We did not want anything. But it was their way of saying thank-you for coming,” Whyte said.
For a few days, the global experience included a coordinated collaboration with medical students from the University of Exeter. The two groups partnered in a windshield survey where students walked through the city’s neighborhoods, gauged health care accessibility and identified possible impediments.
For example, they jotted down the conditions of sidewalks and noted whether ramps existed.
In between days at the clinics and the Case a Casa trips, the group visited local cultural sites including El Montuoso, a forest preserve in the Herrera providence. About 90 minutes from Chitré, the reserve is protected under government law and features a river that helps provide clean water to neighboring communities.
Students also took a canoe trip to the Embera Village where the indigenous tribe lives in a remote rain forest of Panama. The tribe opens up its traditional villages to share their culture and traditions with visitors, and the group survives by the income generated through tourism to their village.
Once there, the students learned about the villagers’ culture and enjoyed a lunch of plantains and fish prepared on an open fire and served on a banana leaf.
Overall, students said the global nursing trip to Panama was a one-in-a-lifetime health experience that they will never forget.
“I think going to a still developing country, especially to provide health care, is a life-changing experience,” Plumber said. “I really recommend it, and I would definitely go again.”
Nursing student Roberto Velasco agreed.
“I felt like we kind of became a part of the city almost, in a weird way. We went house to house one day and visited a family. Two to three days later, that family came to the clinic. They recognized us and we recognized them,” he said.
“It was a great experience. And while nursing is a little different everywhere, the core of nursing is the same.”
Story by Elizabeth L. Brown, USF College of Nursing