Nine Mennonite College of Nursing (MCN) seniors traveled to Panama City, Panama, last May. They completed 45 clinical hours in community clinics through orientation and visits to orphanages, day care settings, and Nutri hogar. A nonprofit organization, Nutri hogar fights childhood malnutrition in impoverished communities throughout the Central American country.

The Illinois State students also exchanged insights into nursing with public health and pediatric care nurses from the University of Panama.

The experiential learning trip, which was the newest of the MCN transcultural nursing opportunities, promoted leadership through hands-on study. A generous gift from the estate of long-time Mennonite supporter and nurse Margaret Randolph helped fund development of the transcultural program.

MCN Assistant Professor and registered nurse Susana J. Calderon, who is from Panama, was instrumental in establishing the trip. She identified the cross-cultural learning opportunity for Mennonite after seeing the success of a similar program in ISU’s College of Business.

“Developing the program took multiple trips back and forth to Panama to research potential study sites,” Calderon said. “We established a syllabus that requires senior nursing students to complete clinical hours, write journal entries about their experience, perform a pediatric developmental assessment, and prepare a 100-point Health Promotion Project for implementation in Spanish and as a research paper in English.”

Students on the trip gained experience in pediatric care, vaccinations of children and the elderly, infant and maternal care, gastrostomy tube care, tube feeding, and wound treatment.

“Giving vaccines, measuring babies, performing home visits, and providing gastronomy tube care was an outstanding learning experience,” said senior nursing student Thomas Huisman. “Delivering health care to the community was much more complex and difficult than I anticipated. There are several factors at play, including a lack of literacy, resources, and government support. With all of those in mind, safety becomes vehemently important.”

Students also made eye-opening visits to orphanages for local children, as well as clinics that serve an indigenous population.

Senior nursing major Kate Vandervest interacted with a child during a site visit arranged in Panama.

Senior nursing major Kate Vandervest interacted with a child during a site visit arranged in Panama.

“The students were able to see how nurses respond to children affected by malnutrition or burns from cooking without adult supervision,” Calderon said. “They also saw firsthand how nurses in Panama work with less resources and fewer opportunities for advanced degrees. In Panama, there are few nurses with doctoral degrees, and the role of a nurse practitioner doesn’t exist.”

Senior nursing student Marlena Roberto was amazed by how the nurses were able to do so much with so little. “It makes me extremely aware of our resources in the United States, and how I can better advocate for my own patients of other cultures or those with whom I may face a language barrier,” Roberto said.

On a visit to one day care center, students prepared a health promotion project. They taught the children in Spanish about healthy nutrition like fruits and vegetables; oral health, including tooth brushing; and basic hygiene such as hand washing.

Senior nursing student Mary Wiemken’s group enjoyed creating a lesson for the students.

“Our presentation consisted of a very brief introduction of our topic and a fun interaction that would provide a better platform of learning,” she said. “This was a great opportunity to create a culturally- and age-appropriate learning experience that would stick in their minds for years to come.”

Six of the nine Mennonite students spoke Spanish fluently, with others in the group interacting with their nursing peers through gestures and body language. They also connected with the children through a friendly game of soccer.

“We hope to continue this program for years to come,” Calderon said. “We also look forward to welcoming visiting scholars from University of Panama’s School of Nursing to interact with undergraduate and graduate Mennonite students, collaborate in research, and gain the latest knowledge and advances in nursing.”

Calderon believes that the ultimate outcome of the trip is to show students the importance of compassion for people who really need it, which is something Randolph shared throughout her life and career up to her death in 2017.

As a nurse in the OB-GYN unit of a Chicago teaching hospital, she prioritized patient care and loved interacting with the people she encountered in her day-to-day work. She left her formal nursing position to raise her two daughters, but stayed committed to the field of nursing through her volunteer work and in-depth conversations with her husband, ophthalmologist John E. Randolph.

The couple’s daughters, Dr. Laura Randolph and Julie Knipstein, commend their mother’s choice to give back to Mennonite and create future health care leaders.

“My mom would have enjoyed having a similar experience as the students who traveled to Panama,” Knipstein said. “We’re thrilled her gift is having an impact on Mennonite students. She would be proud.”

“My parents were both extremely generous people,” Randolph said. “Leaving a lasting gift on education was perfect for them. It was so important for them to give back to the next generation, to educate and support them. I’m honored that she made this gift. It’s exactly what she would have wanted.”

At Illinois State, students enjoy a variety of hands-on learning experiences that best prepare them for their chosen fields. Private support broadens the quantity and quality of these experiential leadership opportunities. Contributions from alumni and friends, faculty, and staff give Redbirds the ability to become leaders on campus and around the world. When donors invest in Illinois State’s programs, they provide students the chance to become civically engaged, globally minded, and able to employ a variety of perspectives when making decisions that will impact themselves and others.

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