This February, UM-Flint Nursing professor Maureen Tippen traveled with a group of students to the Dominican Republic for the 18th time as part of her International Service Learning course.
This year's trip involved some adjustments after changes in the country's immigration laws. Tippen said, "Many Haitians were afraid to seek health care as they are now considered 'illegal.' With the assistance from a Dominican friend, we were able to go to the people in their own communities of sugar cane villages. The needs were great and the people appreciated our assistance and care."
With the help of volunteer nurse practitioner Ann Graziotti (featured in the photo above), and translators Becky Pettengill and James MacDonald, Tippen and her students saw over 500 people over the course of a week.
Students like Tiffani Clevanger credit the experience in the Dominican Republic with strengthening their passion for nursing. "This course challenged me to look at myself and contemplate what I have to offer patients in my professional nurse role," Tiffani said. "I discovered my own weaknesses and new strengths I didn't know I had. After taking this course I feel better attuned to who I am as a nurse and the nursing path I want to pursue."
Nursing student Emily Gross was equally affected. She explained, "This course allowed me to find my true passion for nursing, which is crazy for me to say because I did not expect this to happen. I've learned that it truly brings me joy to help people and that I want to do this for the rest of my life. [The experience] has changed my outlook for my professional future for the better because I am now more excited to start practicing as a nurse."
James MacDonald was a student majoring in Spanish and criminal justice when he first accompanied a group of nursing students to the Dominican Republic as a translator in 1999. Now a practicing attorney with the Social Security Administration in Ohio, James was happy to reprise his role for a fifth time this year. "The experience has meant the world to me," he shared. "I continue to go because the need is so great. I go because I have the time to give, and time is our most valuable resource. I go because I care."
Next year, Tippen plans to return to the same Haitain villages. The group will work with a non-governmental organization to help put a well in a village with no access to clean water. "This will make a tremendous difference in the people's health," said Tippen.
To learn more about the opportunities available through the International Service Learning course, visit the UM-Flint Department of Nursing website.