Heading to Jamaica during Spring Break 2017 might sound like a dream vacation for many, but for others, like ten John Abbott College 3rd year nursing students, Jamaica in March means an educational humanitarian trip. It is spending time way off the tourist track in rural communities where seeking medical attention is complicated by distance and significant financial constraints.
This is the second trip for John Abbott College (JAC) nursing teachers, Judy Sabiston and Claudette Scott who brought the first group of fifteen students in 2015. The 2017 JAC-Jamaica Nursing Team consists of ten students and their two teachers who have 40 years and 18 years as medical-surgical nurses and teachers respectively.
This ambulatory nursing experience will touch on many types of care associated with health promotion and health prevention. JAC students will share their knowledge in health promotion presentations, talking and exchanging one on one with local nurses and much much more. This trip will have a lasting impact on all who are up for the adventure.
Alyssa Abramson, a team member in 2015, was asked if the trip met her expectations. She responded: “My Jamaican experience was not at all what I expected in the slightest, it was so much better!…Looking back on it, I think they taught me as much or even more as I taught them.”
Being accepted to this team following an application and interview process and many months before the students set foot on a plane, they must begin planning and organizing means of fundraising. Costing over $3000 per person, students work hard at many different activities to reduce the cost of the trip. Part-time jobs, garage sales, bake sales, all ideas are good. While fundraising is vital, so is sourcing donations of medical and school supplies to be brought to the clinics and schools. New eyeglasses, medical supplies such as gauze, gloves, bandages, notebooks, pencils, and other donations are packed for travel until the very last minute, to be brought to those most in need.
This is not the Jamaica of all-inclusive resorts and snorkeling the calm clear waters. This is the rural, hardworking community of Billy’s Bay in Treasure Beach and urban Mandeville on the south side of the island. Local residents are warm and welcoming and look forward to this visit.
The local clinic in Treasure Beach is very busy, has basic, limited supplies and long wait times for patients. Those unlucky enough to break a hip for example, must have the money to cover the cost of the prosthesis or hardware needed for the surgery. At another medical venue, JAC students stand in awe as a Jamaican nurse fashions a ventilator from oxygen tubing and an airway pressure machine to successfully save the life of a twenty-eight week old premature baby.
“The nursing practice [in Jamaica] is intelligent, creative and independent. Their care is phenomenal…relying on assessment rather than technology. It made me want to be as skillful as they are.” Emily d’Allmen, 2015
Much of the time is spent giving presentations to groups of all ages in churches, community centres, schools, an orphanage or sharing and exchanging with local people. Roger Chamberlain, a Treasure Beach resident, conscientiously handles the team logistics while in Jamaica, keeping everything on track.
Students explain the warning signs and dangers of hypertension and diabetes while others run blood pressure and vision screenings. Presentations made in 2015 included: the importance of controlling infections by hand washing, how to manage a fever, how to avoid Chikungunya (a viral mosquito-borne disease), relationships, conflict management, bullying, and dispelling sexual myths.
Megan Pinkham, a 2015 JAC nursing student says: “Doing all these presentations in different communities and settings really forced me to adapt on the spot and develop comfortable public speaking skills. I was touched by how doing these presentations and screenings helped so many people, and probably saved some from serious medical problems.”
All involved experienced very tangible examples of the importance of healthy lifestyles while they learned about disease and ailment prevention. Group dynamics, so important in the health care environment, were put into practice – no longer theories in a classroom. The local nurses and JAC students have different backgrounds, different countries, different cultures but all shared a passion for nursing enabling them to face every day as a new adventure.
“Each day was a chance to meet more amazing people and a new experience to remember…we were amidst a culture that was so full of happiness and kindness,” Michelle Blair, 2015.
Being more assertive and autonomous, learning about Jamaican culture, teaching and sharing, the practical experience gained in this 10-day very intense trip was immeasurable and life changing. Connecting with other people whose lives were so very different than their own, prepared these nurses, these travellers for the diversity they will see no matter where their nursing skills brings them whether it is in Canada, or far abroad.
“I saw happiness, beauty, kindness, and generosity from people who have so little and who go without, which only confirms what is truly important in life…so many people told me how much of a positive impact our groups’ teaching and screening sessions have on their communities, which filled my heart to capacity…the people I met and experiences I had will be with me forever.”
Nadia Nadeau, 2015
The countdown is on. Just a few short months left before the 2017 JAC-Jamaica Nursing Team touches down in Treasure Beach, Jamaica. Now they have faces for many of the names, nurses awaiting their return, lists of supplies for the clinics, communities and schools they will visit and shelves JAC students are determined to fill for local residents. One step at a time, but everyone is pitching in.