Experiencing nursing around the world

Nurse students study abroad
Illustration by Mike Austin

Marquette makes study abroad options attainable for nursing students, giving them global perspectives to draw on throughout their careers.

When Chiana Román, Nurs ’19, steps up to a patient’s bedside in the pediatric ICU of Children’s Wisconsin, she often finds herself transported thousands of miles away to a rural village outside Piura, Peru, where she spent four weeks as a Marquette junior in 2018.

Relying on her burgeoning command of Spanish and the supplies she could carry in a backpack, Román worked with a team of Peruvian and Marquette nurses to bring care and compassion to patients in their homes. The patients she treats today in Milwaukee may have different backgrounds and conditions than those she met in Peru, but the essential lessons from her study abroad are universal, Román says.

“So many of the skills I learned overlap,” she says. “It gave me a huge appreciation for utilizing conversation as a piece of your assessment. I love to listen to my patients’ and families’ stories. … I also empathize with [those] who might not speak English, knowing firsthand how difficult it is to speak another language.”

The importance of nursing abroad

This is exactly the type of takeaway that Theresa Schnable, clinical instructor, and Dr. Christine Schindler, Nurs ’97, Grad ’11, clinical associate professor, hoped students would gain from the College of Nursing’s study abroad options when they took the helm of the college’s Peru program in 2015 and later launched the South Africa program in 2018. While typical four-year nursing programs leave little room for study abroad after course requirements and clinical work, Marquette has worked to make study abroad options attainable. That’s fortunate, says Schindler, because she believes these are crucial learning opportunities for young nursing students.

“It’s a really developmentally important time as they’re starting to envision what type of career they want to have and what type of nurse they want to be,” Schindler says. “And it lets them really understand the larger impact that nurses can make.”

Marquette offers study abroad opportunities for nursing students that range from semester-long experiences at universities such as Monash University in Australia and University College Dublin in Ireland to shorter summer and J-Session experiences, such as the Marquette faculty-led programs in Peru and South Africa. Students are able to fulfill essential nursing credits with any of the programs. “The multiple options offered to nursing majors is what drew me to Marquette,” Román says.

Peru study abroad nursing students
Marquette nursing study abroad students touring the local high school in Piura, Peru (left), and alumna Grace Hegemann giving a public health presentation for schoolchildren on “alimentación saludable” (healthy eating), also in Piura (right).

A global perspective

In addition to attending lectures in exciting new locations, nursing students in these programs also have an opportunity to experience how health care systems operate around the world and challenge preconceived notions they might have.

This was the case for Grace Hegemann, Nurs ’19, now a registered nurse at Children’s Wisconsin, when she first worked alongside nurses in Piura.

While techniques used in the Peruvian clinics Hegemann visited were different from those she was used to, such as delivering babies in denim smocks because of a lack of personal protective gear, she came to learn that it was more important to provide care by any means possible than to adhere to standards she’d been taught in the U.S.

“I truly believe that I am a better nurse and a better global citizen today because of my study abroad experience.”
Grace Hegemann

“In Peru, I thought that we would be able to bring about change to this community. However, I was humbled to learn that that was never the intent of this experience,” Hegemann says.

“Rather, it was to learn and to serve the people living there in the way that they would accept and welcome. I truly believe that I am a better nurse and a better global citizen today because of my study abroad experience.”

Senior Sophie Brackett says that when she visited South Africa this past January, she was interested to see how health care there prioritized preventive care in a way the U.S. health care system doesn’t.

“They have community outreach workers and there is a large focus on primary care,” Brackett says. “Whereas here in the United States, there is a large focus on tertiary care and on providing lifesaving medicine to those who are critically ill. We’d benefit from a stronger focus on primary care and educating patients on their illness.”

During their study abroad experiences in Ireland and Australia, respectively, Kristen Gadbois, Nurs ’21, and Steve Samuel, Nurs ’21, say that outside a clinical setting they were also able to appreciate the differences between the health care systems and their students. For Gadbois, this included seeing how Ireland’s national health care system navigated the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020.

Health care and global challenges

As it did with all other aspects of health care, Schnable says, COVID-19 drastically impacted the College of Nursing’s study abroad programs, and students were unable to travel abroad for multiple years. The college’s South Africa program resumed this January for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, but Schindler says the Peru program remains on hiatus due to political unrest in the country.

Returning to Peru is a priority, Schnable says, but in the spirit of considerate care they also want to ensure that reinstating the program will not put an extra burden on the health care system. “We need to wait until our community organizations are ready to host us,” she says. “There was a lot of ethical decision-making we had to do around that.”

As these study abroad opportunities continue to grow and change, Schnable and Schindler say they’re excited to expand location offerings and make the programs more financially accessible to students. Ultimately, they hope these programs will bring a new perspective to students to help them provide compassionate and globally informed care for years to come.

Explore your study abroad options as a nursing student.
Learn more about the College of Nursing.