Nursing program offers study aboard in Ecuador

Peter Floess

Staff Writer    

The nursing program at Parkland College offers a study aboard trip to Ecuador. The trip includes medical work in the capital of Quito and travel to a rain forest in the country. Michelle Spading, Dean of student affairs in the Health Professions Department says she hopes “students immerse themselves into a different culture and leave with a new appreciation and respect for how others live and do things.”

She believes that to understand a country’s health care system, a person has to understand the people, their environment, and the culture of that place. This program is supposed to be an introduction to the Ecuadorian Health Care System.

According to Spading, the deadline for the short application is Dec. 15 for the program in the summer of 2016. She will also consider students who apply later. The program is linked with other community colleges, so it only takes four to six students from Parkland. The group has an interpreter who travels with them, but if a student does speak Spanish, they will have

Photo courtesy of Amy Workman | Carle Hospital (Left to right) Ruth Webb, Amy Workman, Michelle Spading and Tammy Kennett participate in a nursing study abroad trip in Ecuador.

Photo courtesy of Amy Workman | Carle Hospital
(Left to right) Ruth Webb, Amy Workman, Michelle Spading and Tammy Kennett participate in a nursing study abroad trip in Ecuador.

constant opportunities to speak Spanish and interpret for the rest of the group.

Spading’s favorite place to take students is to a shop of a wheelchair builder.

“He had polio as a child and uses braced crutches to get around,” Spading said.  “Growing up, people just didn’t have wheelchairs so he began building them. He makes all kinds of specialized chairs, from the simple to the complex.  He takes in used wheelchairs and parts them out and often builds his own parts as well. He began a program for students who have physical and/or mental challenges and they come to the building to learn skills and help in any way they can.”

Spading has seen great improvements in the Ecuadorian Health Care System since she first visited the country in 2009. In recent years, the government has invested money in the “modernizing and expanding” medical facilities in Quito.

“The Emergency Room has more room and there are more beds available so you don’t see the overcrowding there [anymore].  Everyone has access to health care at the public facilities.  The private hospitals are extremely affordable,” Spading explained.

Long-term health care facilities, such as nursing homes, are still rare. Generally, medicinal care costs much less. Spading believes this is because more people are becoming mindful of what they use and don’t waste as much.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor Sara McLafferty, who teaches a course on the geography of gealth care, believes that in rural Ecuador like in many other low to middle-income countries, there is a. lack of healthcare providers.

“In rural areas, people have difficulty reaching health facilities due to long travel distances and limited supply of healthcare services,” McLafferty explained. “These barriers are especially important for impoverished rural populations who don’t have the money and transportation to obtain care.”

Amy Workman, a former Parkland student who is now a neo-natal nurse at Carle Hospital, noticed this urban/rural divide in terms of healthcare providers. Workman told the story of a 12-year-old boy that was kicked in a face by a bull. According to Spading, his nose was broken and he had other many other injuries. The boy had to walk seven hours with a family member in order to find a hospital. Workman explained that in some villages in the rainforest the only local health care is “natural” treatments and/or shamans.

“[The village] had never had outsiders come to care for them.  It was fun to watch them as we went about our business.  Most of them under 5 foot 5 inches and all but one of the women in our group was 5 foot 7 inches or more,” Workman reflected. “They looked up at us and laughed.  We could see them talking to each other and motioning about our height. Those people were characters. The joy they had when they saw us was just something that can’t be explained.”

Workman believes that the trip to Ecuador taught her to appreciate her life.

“You don’t really know how lucky you have it until you see those who truly don’t have much and are grateful for everything.  They live the only life they know how and appreciate everything they get,” Workman said. “It’s good to love what you have and be content with who you are in the place you are right now.  Everything could always be worse.”