Nursing Students Gain Experience in the Philippines

Truman State University nursing students took a 21-day trip last summer to the Philippines where they helped deliver newborn babies, had conversations about cultural appropriation and were exposed to a foreign health care system. They left May 18 and returned June 11. Kit and Steve Hadwiger went with students to Iloilo city and the island of Boracay, a popular vacation spot.

Senior Mallory Meyer said the trip was being planned since they were freshmen. She said before their senior year, nursing students always knew the Philippines was an option, and it would be a wonderful experience. Every year, nurses who have gone on the trip give a presentation about their experiences in the Philippines.

“It looked like a great opportunity for learning more skills that we don’t get to see here,” Meyer said. “Otherwise, [nursing students] didn’t really get an opportunity to study abroad because [courses abroad don’t] really fit the nursing curriculum.”

Meyer said 21 days was the longest she has ever been away from the United States and her family. She said they had different time zones, so it was difficult to communicate with her family. Meyer said it was intimidating working with the real nurses because she didn’t want to embarrass herself. She said they were helpful, and she never felt homesick because they were so welcoming.

Meyer said for the first week they worked in government hospitals in Manila. She said if a nurse was interested in a specific unit, they could request the government hospital assign them to it.

“My first night was labor and delivery and the biggest thing we got to do in the first week was deliver a baby,” Meyer said. “Each of us were able to deliver a baby, so that was super exciting. Labor and delivery isn’t really what I am interested in, but you’ll never get that experience ever again so it was really eye opening.”

Meyer said she could handle another international experience again and improve. Meyer said she said it helped her realize how much she loves nursing and solidified her investment in caring for others. She said the Truman nurses became very close because they were able to learn with one another. She realized she cares more about what she does in the future than what grade she gets on a test.

Meyer said there are differences in the culture, like the Philippines’ stronger emphasis on involving family members in the health care system. For example, she said where nurses might give baths to patients in the US, in the Philippines, that is a responsibility of the family.

Senior Allison Lucash said nursing students don’t have a lot of study abroad opportunities, so the trip to the Philippines allowed students to see health care in a different culture.

Lucash said the nursing students weren’t going to the Philippines to take classes. She said it was scary because they were using skills they felt confident in but were still developing. Lucash said nursing students were the minority, so they had to adapt to being stared at.

Lucash said it was good that Manila and Iloilo were different because it let them see the differences between the urban and rural environments of the Philippines’ health care system.

“When we were in Iloilo, we went to the villages and different communities,” Lucash said. “In Manila, we were working at the government hospital in the city. There was definitely that aspect of culture shock, because Manila is about as big as New York, and it’s crowded with a lot of people. I was relatively taken aback with how many people there were.”

Lucash said she thinks the practice of nursing is universal. She said the experience made her more aware of nursing’s reality. Lucash said nursing is not about reading a textbook — it’s about helping people with care and compassion.

Kit Hadwiger said she and her husband Steve Hadwiger, who are both former Truman professors, have been a part of the program since 1997. She said the health care system in the Philippines is different from America’s, so preparing the students to function in an unfamiliar environment is important. Kit Hadwiger said it is important for the students to have this study abroad program because the world has become so small with the introduction of the Internet. She said it is important to be culturally-sensitive to help the  variety of patients they will take care of in the future.

Steve Hadwiger said he had two goals in mind for the program he wanted the students to learn cultural competence and to obtain a global perspective on health care.

“It gives them a better understanding of that global perspective, and you cannot get that in the local hospital system,” Steve Hadwiger said. “I’m not speaking locally here, but I mean America is a very different reality — socially, economically, medically, and to go to another society and see how things operate there — they see what Filipinos have taken from us and utilized, but they also see what else they do that is different from what we do.”