Pulse on Health: Students learn to do nursing with love

A group of Rochester-area nursing students has new connections from Duluth to Portoviejo, Ecuador.

The Rochester Community and Technical College students traveled with their colleagues from northern Minnesota this summer to Ecuador for a study-abroad program, gaining experience in international health.

The students visited Damien House , a residential hospital where ostracized people with Hansen's disease (a treatable bacterial illness once called leprosy) live in a compassionate environment.About 60 people are permanent residents.

"One of them told me … that you have to provide nursing with love," said fourth-semester RCTC student Tina Makela. "She was teaching me what it means to be a good nurse. That's something I'll never forget."

First-year student Teresa Majerus said she wasn't as prepared as she thought she was for the journey and all they saw. That included an orphanage, extreme poverty, opulence, hospitals where families do most of the hands-on patient care, and patients required to bring along drugs and medical supplies or forego medical interventions.


"There was no way to prepare for something of that magnitude," Majerus said.

My own study abroad experience as a journalism major, many years ago, took me to Kenya, where the AIDS crisis was being urgently addressed.

Storage sheds and shops had "Let's Talk" painted boldly across them to trigger conversations about transmission risk.

Those banners stood in stark contrast to similarly dark ones that advertised a U.S.-based cola, which some would argue held potential dietary health implications for Kenyans.

I witnessed poverty unlike anything I could have imagined, which also has profound public-health implications. We witnessed kids in one community, for example, sniffing glue to mentally escape.

But Kenya also demonstrated profound efforts to improve crop production and, thereby, the health of its people.

The Rochester nurses who traveled to Ecuador recognized Ecuadorians' appreciation for the simplest of things.

A woman in Ecuador who previously stayed with her daughter at the Ronald McDonald House so the youngster could get Mayo Clinic treatment was asked what she misses from Rochester.


The woman and her family live in a home that, by U.S. standards, suggests poverty.

But her daughter had finished treatment and she told the nurses, "I have everything I need."

What an invaluable lesson for the students to learn: Good health is all a family needs in order to be happy.

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