James Madison University

Nursing and Health Sciences Students Travel to Costa Rica

By: Lori News
Posted: February 4, 2014

PHOTO: Waterfall

As Shelby Denn was packing for her first trip out of the country, she didn’t expect much out of it except the fact that she was going to be in an unfamiliar country for a couple weeks. She didn’t realize that this trip would pique her interest in foreign healthcare and create an experience she would never forget.

In the summer of 2013 the JMU Nursing Department teamed up with the Office of International Programs and sent students to San José, Costa Rica. The group of primarily junior and senior nursing students experienced Costa Rican culture by living with host families while learning about its healthcare services.

“The idea was (and is) for students preparing for an assortment of health professions to have a chance to work together, thus developing an understanding of the other health professional perspectives,” Linda Sobel, Associate Professor of Nursing and trip director said.

The students were able to compare and contrast the differences in the living situations and the professional roles that impact health in the U.S. and Costa Rica. They witnessed the tasks of the EBAIS (Equipos Básicos de Atención Integral en Salud), or “Basic Teams of Global Health Care.” The EBAIS has over 800 clinics and serves about 4,000 people in Costa Rica. Each clinic provides preventative and primary health care to everyone in the community and is the first level of care in Costa Rica.

“The EBAIS clinics had top doctors going from house to house to make sure that all families had an adequate living space and the children were in good health,” Denn said.

Traveling from clinic to clinic helped the students understand how an unfamiliar health care service runs its day-to-day operations.

“I think the biggest thing that I learned from this trip was that although their healthcare system is not the same as ours, they are doing the best that they can with what they have,” Hannah Berg, senior health sciences major said.

The clinics are plain and lack extravagant décor, because the money is strictly spent on healthcare. However, each EBAIS team is well staffed with at least a physician, nurse, medical records technician and pharmacist technician. “There are a lot of pros and cons to their system and our system and I think it was extremely valuable to see it first hand and to actually see what went on in the clinics and hospitals there,” Berg said.

Although there are some major differences with the U.S. and Costa Rican health care systems, the desire for healthy living and education is universal.

“I learned how much alike we all are… mother, fathers, children and families all want to be educated and to be healthy,” Sobel shared.

PHOTO: FLowers

While the students read books to the children in English, such as the classic favorite Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, the children were entranced. The students also helped make cement floors and played with the children. “We played a lot of games with the kids at the school we visited. They were so cute and eager to learn English so we were able to communicate pretty well with them in English too,” Berg explained. 

Not only did the students spend time teaching the children, but they also were learning along the way. The experience of living with a host family and being apart of the everyday interactions immersed the students in the Spanish language and they were able to pick up the language faster and easier.

“My Spanish was extremely weak when I got there but with the help of my Spanish class, the interactions daily and my host mom, I was able to better my Spanish,” Denn said.

Although Costa Rica has made significant progress in its sanitation development, the students were still aware of the lack of proper sanitation in the communities they lived in. The large number of stray dogs running around freely intrigued the students.

“I didn't think I would walk away from this experience appreciating my house, my family and my surroundings as much as I did,” Denn shared.

While in Costa Rica, students grew knowledge of life in a foreign country and gained a rewarding experience. Sobel believes, “we all need a global awareness of how others live their lives. This course provides health sciences students with a beginning understanding of Hispanic and Latino culture that they may encounter when caring for their patients.”