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International clinical experience enables students to see all possibilities


Nancy Wilk, RN

Cultural competency, stronger patient advocacy and global citizenship are three outcomes senior nursing students gain through international clinical experience, according to Nancy Wilk, DNS, MS, ARNP, an associate professor of nursing at Wegmans School of Nursing, St. John Fisher College, in Rochester, N.Y.

Wilk and colleague Kylene Abraham, DNP, APRN, RNC-OB, an assistant professor of nursing at the same school, presented these research findings in April at the 2016 Nursing Education Research Conference in Washington, D.C. Their study examined how an overseas clinical rotation expanded students’ sense of professionalism.

One takeaway for Gwen Olton, MA, BSN, RN, was the importance of culture and cultural humility. Olton traveled to Kenya with Wilk before graduating from the school of nursing in 2012. She said she gained valuable insight through the experience.

“I [learned] I don’t know what I don’t know, and it’s important to ask questions, to be curious and to build relationships with the people in front of you,” said Olton, a consultant for training and practice transformation for an organization in Rochester, N.Y.

Other findings of the study that Wilk conducted and Abraham helped analyze are students’ larger world view, which translates into professional traits such as not judging others based on their culture.

Patient advocacy

Students recognized that they can become patients’ advocates, and they also are seen as resources by other nurses who don’t have international experience, Wilk said.


Kylene Abraham, RN

Abraham said once students gain firsthand understanding of what’s going on in the world, they have a better comprehension about why things are occurring in the health systems in other places.

“They learned to make sure that what you do [culturally] is sustainable,” Abraham said. “Don’t just give someone a pill, because that’s not sustainable. Give them education that helps them change.”

Students with international clinical experience tend to become nurses who are able to help people better advocate for themselves as well, according to Abraham.

Compassionate care


Gwen Olton, RN

Olton said, among other things, she learned how community health workers planned care based on the supplies at hand. But even without common provisions like disposable gloves, these community workers cared passionately for their people. “They had a lot of compassion and that’s something that’s become more important to me,” Olton said.
Wilk has accompanied students on trips to Kenya, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Peru, working alongside them to sew reusable terry cloth pads for women to use during menses, or to create cycle beads to help women monitor their menstrual cycles. Students showed local women how to use these items.

Abraham said students gain stature in the profession for their international experience and that it helps them stand apart as they look for jobs. They also have more success working with interprofessional teams and have more confidence in their nursing skills, she said.

One student, Abraham recalled, decided to join the Ebola team at his hospital as a result of his overseas clinical rotation.

Both Wilk and Abraham believe more students should invest in international clinical experiences. “It’s one thing to teach cultural competence to students; it’s another thing to take students on a trip where they’re immersed in it,” Wilk said. “They have to adapt and live it. It’s a very impactful experience.”

Olton literally translated her Kenya trip into meaningful practice while working at a mental health youth residential facility where she said her clinical rotation was partially responsible for one patient’s successful treatment outcome. “I was working with a young lady from Kenya who’d lived in a refugee camp,” Olton said. “I was able to build a relationship with her, but larger than that, I was able to engage with her due to my [cultural] curiosity and respect for her experience.” •

Karen Schmidt, RN, a freelance writer, contributed to the writing and research of this article.

By | 2021-05-07T15:31:02-04:00 October 7th, 2016|Categories: Nursing Education|Tags: |1 Comment

About the Author:

Special Topics Editor Deborah Filipek develops and edits content for OnCourse Learning’s blog, which covers news, trends and features relevant to nurses. She has more than 25 years of writing and editing experience, having previously worked for weekly newspapers and ad agencies in the Chicagoland area.

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    Tina Shermer, RN, BSN, DSD, Nurse Educator November 9, 2016 at 10:27 pm - Reply

    Enjoyed the article. As an advocate for nursing news and education, I appreciate what you do.

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