Study abroad gives UC Nursing students a global perspective

University of Cincinnati nursing students expand their horizons in Thailand, Tanzania and the UK

Though it’s more and more common for nurses to travel at some point in their careers, it’s still uncommon for nursing students to study abroad as they earn their degrees. The College of Nursing at the University of Cincinnati offers students travel opportunities both for an introductory perspective on global health systems and for immersive clinical experiences.

A young woman in black and red scrubs and a mask poses with her arms open wide in front of a small white building with an elaborate red and gold gable.

UC Nursing student Anne Ryan in Thailand, May 2023 | Photo/provided

“The whole reason that I came to the UC College of Nursing was for the study abroad program,” said 2023 graduate Anne Ryan. “The UC College of Nursing was going to offer me the opportunity to go to India or go to Thailand, go be a nurse globally.”

International experiences encourage students to recognize the role cultural competence plays in the care they provide and in the reduction of health disparities, abroad or at home.

The four College of Nursing trips to the U.K., Tanzania and Thailand in 2022-23 are representative of the wide options for study abroad at UC and the resurgence of international education since the pandemic. Study abroad participation has returned to over three-quarters of its pre-COVID peak.

Global opportunities integrated into students’ degree and career plans are a vital component of the University of Cincinnati’s Next Lives Here promise of experiential learning for all students, regardless of their program of study.

The whole reason that I came to the UC College of Nursing was for the study abroad program.

Anne Ryan UC Nursing graduate

Global health in London

Nursing student Izzy Elliott took the 2023 Global Health course and its optional travel to London. The course and study abroad are open to students in any major.

“I was definitely a little bit nervous, because I'd never been out of the country. But Dr. York was really helpful,” she said.

York is the college's director of global health nursing. She teaches the Global Health class and leads study abroad.

A large group, mostly young women, poses in front of a painting, lit from above on a dark wall, and a dartboard in a shuttered cabinet

UC Nursing students in London, spring 2023 | Photo/provided

The trip included an introduction to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a private tour of Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital and a visit to the Florence Nightingale Museum. Elliott said the highlight was a six-hour walking tour through the National Gallery and London’s streets to glimpse how disease shaped the metropolis, from the Great Plague to cholera to AIDS.

Four young women post in front of a large stone balustrade; one wears a bright yellow rain jacket and another a University of Cincinnati sweatshirt.

UC Nursing students in London; Izzy Elliott second from right | Photo/provided

Elliott has now applied for the Thailand study abroad trip as well.

“Stepping back a little and seeing other healthcare practices in other places was really fascinating,” she said.

“I made connections with people that I never would have even talked to before, which wasn't really an aspect of the trip I thought much about before I went on it,” she added. “I didn't have a ton of friends before I went on this trip. But now I kind of do.”

Immersive experiences

York sees the London trip as a first experience for students or an option for those unable to travel for a longer stay. Since she was hired as global health nursing director in 2016, her priority has been to create immersive, hands-on field experiences in collaboration with global teaching partners.

a group of people, Black and white, pose smiling on a dirt road; behind them are green hills and a small building.

UC Nursing students in Tanzania, May 2023 | Photo/provided

The programs in Tanzania and Thailand are two-week trips integrated into community health courses. Students who choose those international clinical rotation options live and work with local nursing students doing their own clinical rotation in rural communities.

“I know that is only one more week, but it's so immersive. The hope is that students gain empathy and cultural knowledge and the ability to provide more culturally appropriate care, and that these qualities stay with them through their nursing career. What we want them to do is take better care of people here in the U.S.,” York said.

Community as partner rotation in Tanzania

In Tanzania, the college collaborates with Hubert Kairuki Memorial University. York did her doctoral research in Tanzania and spent a year teaching at HKMU. UC clinical nursing Assistant Professor Jeff Trees and Clinical Instructor Deasa Dorsey co-led this year’s trip with York. 

A man and woman sit in a classroom, listening to a circle of students

UC Nursing professors Jeff Trees and Kate York lead a study abroad prep class | Photo/Kathleen Hornstra, UC International

Admission is by interview. Selected students take an independent study course in addition to their community class to become more familiar with the country and prepare for living conditions in their rural destination that may push them beyond their comfort zone. The interview and prep course also correct any impression that they are going in as medical missionaries rather than as students.  

The study abroad experience is eye-opening for many.

“A group of us got to see a hysterectomy there,” said Gabriella Iordache, who went on the Tanzania trip this May. “The power went out twice. The backup generator had to kick on. Just seeing how calm everyone was and how normal it was to deal with that and still successfully do surgery—I think one of the big takeaways for me was you can do so much with limited resources.”

The UC students got a chance to be more hands-on when they and the Tanzanian students designed education programs to improve community health outcomes.

“We got to meet with the leaders of the village and discuss what they thought was necessary. And then each day we got to round at the health center,” Iordache said. “It was interesting to see what was the same for us and what was different. I think there were a lot of similarities that we didn't realize.”

a group of young people, gowned for surgery and with masks pulled down, smile for a selfie; a man in the back spreads his arms in a wide and cheerful gesture.

UC Nursing students in Tanzania | Photo/provided

“We get a lot of different hospital rotations in UC’s nursing program, which are great,” said Sophia Laudenslayer. “But to be able to experience it in another country kind of breaks the barriers of what you think nursing really is.

“The biggest takeaway I have is how relational their nursing care is, focused on the person, not the task. It's not a checklist kind of nursing there,” she said. “It’s more individual to the patient, and it's very family centered. That really opened my eyes to my nursing.”

Five smiling young women, some Black and wearing hijab, some white and wearing black t-shirts and skirts, lean closely together for a photo in what looks like a small courtyard; the young woman in front spreads her arms widely, and behind is a white stucco building with a tin-roofed lean-to, some barrels, and some things hanging on a clothesline.

UC Nursing students Sophia Laudenslayer (left) and Gabriella Iordache (right) with nursing students from Tanzania| Photo/provided

Working closely with the Tanzanian nursing students was a highlight of the trip for both Iordache and Laudenslayer.  They keep in touch through social media and said they would love to host the Tanzanian students in turn at UC.

Amiri Mmaka, an HKMU community nursing lecturer York worked with during her year at the university, said, “My students enjoyed being with the UC students and learning together in the community.”

“I'm just so thankful to Kate York and to UC International for making this trip possible,” said Laudenslayer. “Nursing is so much more, so much bigger, than what we think it is.”

Nursing is so much more, so much bigger than what we think it is

Sophia Laudenslayer UC Nursing student

Their trip concluded with a tour of HKMU and a stop in Zanzibar, where the group learned the port’s history in the slave trade and saw the century-old tortoises of Prison Island.

In addition to the HKMU program, UC’s College of Nursing collaborates with Cincinnati-based NGO Village Life Outreach in Tanzania to offer graduate nurse practitioner students global field experience. Four traveled with Village Life Outreach this spring with Robyn Stamm, clinical nursing assistant professor and director of pediatrics programs, as nursing faculty lead.

Population/Community Health nursing in Thailand

In Thailand, the college’s academic partner is the Boromarajonani College of Nursing, which runs more than thirty nursing schools across the country.

Clusters of young people seated on mats eat a meal from low wicker tables.

UC and Thai nursing students enjoy a meal together | Photo/provided

Study abroad in Thailand caps the fall Population/Community Health Nursing course. Over the 2022 winter break, York, Trees and Carolyn Smith, director of Ph.D. programs and graduate occupational health nursing, led two groups to rural communities north of Bangkok, where faculty members who did doctoral studies at UC Nursing teach at BCN schools.

“The program is very similar to Tanzania,” said York, “Our students work with the Thai students out in the communities. They're partnered up and do home visits with elderly people and people at risk.” They live in the dormitories and collaborate on health education programs.

Wipasiri Naraphong, lecturer at Boromarajonani College of Nursing Saraburi, said, "We are nurses. We learn together. We cultivate unity in diversity."

A group of young women wearing surgical masks, half in red and black scrubs and half in pale blue scrubs, post in front of several colorful posters.

UC and Thai nursing students, December 2022 | Photo/provided

Anna Schultz took the Thailand study abroad trip as a senior this May.

“I've never been out of the country before. UC gave me the opportunity. I'm really glad I got to experience it in this way,” Schultz said.

“It was just awesome to be partnered with the Thai students,” she said. “It was definitely hard with the language barrier, but we had so much fun. When we weren't in school, we were hanging out, we played volleyball, they would take us to markets to pick up food for dinner.”

She said she was impressed by the kindness and humility the Thai nursing students showed in providing care and by the broader role that nurses have in Thailand than in the U.S. healthcare system.

A small group of young women pose masked for a selfie in a parking lot, smiling and gesturing for the camera; the woman in front wears a nametag reading University of Cincinnati Nursing, Anne Ryan.

UC student Anne Ryan, center | Photo/provided

UC Nursing graduate Anne Ryan appreciated how immersive the experience was.

“I think what's unique is that it wasn't mission oriented. I wasn't there to help people—I was there to learn, myself,” said Ryan. “I was there to be put outside of my comfort zone. And there were so many times I was put outside my comfort zone!

“There's nothing more important in nursing than being culturally competent. I think the experience will serve me throughout my entire nursing career.”

There's nothing more important in nursing than being culturally competent.

Anne Ryan UC Nursing graduate

The Thailand study abroad tour included an overnight train voyage to Chiang Mai and its famous temples, a trip to an elephant rescue park and a visit to a night market.

Plans for the future

“UC International is awesome at helping us with scholarships, so I was able to afford the trip and travel to a different country for two weeks to experience my clinical hours,” said Laudenslayer (Tanzania).

“I didn't really know if global nursing was on my future ideas list,” she said. “I’m not sure what I want to do when I graduate. But, wow, now I have a lot more options. This trip expanded my ideas of what I could do with nursing and how important it is for healthcare across the globe."

Iordache (Tanzania) said, “Not all nursing schools do this. So taking advantage of every opportunity that you have I think is really important.”

“You're going to take away something more valuable than you could ever imagine,” said Schultz (Thailand).

She added, “I was able to make connections with people in the College of Nursing I didn't have before. Now I really talk to people.

“I didn't really know what to expect. All I could tell you is, it's not exactly what I expected it to be. And that's a good thing.”

It's not exactly what I expected it to be. And that's a good thing.

Anna Schultz UC Nursing student

York said the college’s study abroad programs are in the rebuilding stage since COVID. She wants to engage more faculty leaders. Dorsey received a mentoring grant from UC International to co-lead the Thailand group this year.

UC Nursing is currently sponsoring three HKMU faculty as doctoral students, which will help sustain the Tanzania partnership and study abroad programs long-term.

Dean Gordon Gillespie traveled with the Tanzania group to further strengthen the partnership. Smith and faculty at HKMU and BCN are also exploring collaborative research with a former UC researcher in Jordan about intimate partner violence in their four cultures.

UC Nursing has offered clinical rotations in Japan, the Dominican Republic and India. York hopes to expand partnerships in South America that will offer the same connections to local students and communities.

The first students she took abroad from UC to Tanzania in 2017 graduated in 2018. Because of COVID, they have not had the typical start to their professional lives, but York knows that their global experiences gave them contacts and confidence to do amazing things.

“I don't know if it has changed their careers,” York said. “It definitely changes their perspective and the way they practice nursing. And I think that opens up their world.”

Student interviews by Kathleen Hornstra

Featured image: UC nursing student Gabriella Iordache in Tanzania | Photo/provided

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