Nursing's outreach mission teaches students responsibility to help people in need

By Amy Weaver, Office of Communications and Marketing



In the Auburn University School of Nursing, spring break is anything but typical.

For the past eight years, it's been a time for students to practice skills learned in the classroom, help a community that lacks adequate healthcare and develop a passion for service to others.

Associate Professor Kathy Jo Ellison believes the opportunity to take students to Quito, Ecuador, is a way to meet the university's mission of outreach and service to the world.

"This gives students the chance to see they have talent that can be used to serve people who are in need and they have a chance to give back to this world," she said. "There's nothing I do in life that brings all aspects of who I am together as much as this trip."

For a student like Jordan Cox, the experience solidified her plans to be a nurse in remote locations where resources are limited. Caroline Dulaney had been to Ecuador before and worked with Servants in Faith and Technology, or SIFAT, before, but this trip was transformational for every student.

"You come to help but really they're the ones that end up blessing you," said Dulaney. "It's definitely one of those experiences that once you go home, you want to come back. You want to keep serving and you want to keep helping."

Without technology at her fingertips, Cox said she was challenged to take what she learned in class at Auburn and rely solely on her assessment skills to make a diagnosis.

"This goes far beyond anything they can just teach us in a classroom setting," she said.

The students from Auburn's Harrison School of Pharmacy faced the same challenge.

"In the United States we have the availability of lots of medications," said Dr. Suzanne Graham-Hooker, a staff physician at the Auburn University Medical Clinic. "Here, we actually have to think about how we are going to treat patients without all of those medicines."

Pharmacy student John Cox said the pharmacists played a critical role at the clinic with the nursing students. They had to determine what available medication could be used for a diagnosis, and then counsel the patient, a critical skill stressed in the Harrison School of Pharmacy.

Cortney Jones said she was heavily involved with service before she started pharmacy school so the trip to Quito was an opportunity for her to get back into it before she graduated in May.

"When I got the e-mail about Ecuador, I just felt like it was God's way of telling me, it's your time to go out and serve," she said.

Since 2010, Professor Scott Kramer and Associate Professor Ben Farrow, from the McWhorter School of Building Science in Auburn's College of Architecture, Design and Construction, have brought students to Quito to join the School of Nursing's expedition as part of an International Service-Learning class. The students have helped build churches that also serve as afterschool facilities.

Building Science student Jessica Wolfe went to Ecuador in 2012 and would have returned this year had it not been for her senior thesis and other requirements for graduation in May. She had been on mission trips before, but nothing compared to this.

Instead of using American tools, technology and materials to construct the walls of a church/after school facility, students left their tools in Auburn and learned how the Ecuadorians did it by working alongside them with the tools they have.

"We are using some techniques that have been around for about 2000 years, but that's part of the class," said Kramer. "The idea is to serve the people of Ecuador and not bring our modern construction means and methods here but to do what they're doing and learn from them."

"It's not just a trip where you come and help them for the time that you're there. It's a lasting impression," added nursing student Ashley Pigg. "It helps teach people how to provide for themselves, whether it's cooking, building or just access to the necessities that they need for daily life."

In Quito, Auburn works with the staff of SIFAT, a nonprofit Christian organization that provides training in community development all over the world. Their goal is to train leaders in each community to make the community sustainable.

"I have tremendous respect for the organization, especially when we visited Mamma Yoli's and I got to see the impact that the construction of one building can have on a whole neighborhood," said Pigg.

Michaela Tanksley saw the impact of the collaboration between Auburn University, Quito and SIFAT when the children visited the construction site. Their little faces expressed joy and gratitude for what the students were doing, and in turn, she said Auburn students were inspired to do their best.

Paul Telehany said mixing mortar and throwing blocks up by hand was enjoyable, but the best part of the experience was realizing the final product will serve a purpose for years to come.

"When you look at the walls, you can see the kids. You can see their faces. You're building it for them," he said. "I'm very grateful and I think it's a blessing I had the opportunity to be here."

Last Updated: June 28, 2013

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