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Student Nurse Studies Abroad in Santiago, Chile

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By E’Louise Ondash, RN, contributor

The seven-and-a-half weeks Arielle LeVeaux spent studying in Santiago, Chile, in the summer of 2007, were life-changing.

“I know for sure that it changed some of my ideas about nursing,” said the 21-year-old nursing student at the University of Portland. “I had not really considered pediatrics or OB until I had some amazing experiences with little kids in clinics and seeing a few births in Chile.”

Student nurse Arielle LeVeaux spent seven-and-a-half weeks learning in Santiago, Chile.

Le Veaux was one of about 20 college students in health care to participate in a study-abroad program designed by the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES). Headquartered in Chicago, IES Abroad is a nonprofit organization that, since 1950, has enrolled more than 5,000 students annually in programs that take them to Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, New Zealand and South America.

The IES Health Studies Program in Santiago is designed for nursing, pre-med, pharmacy, public health and hospital management students. The program offers two summer courses -- Clinical Observation and Spanish for Health Practitioners. The first provides observational experiences in health services administration and clinical areas such as maternal and child health, nutrition and urgent care. The latter is designed to help students hone their proficiency in Spanish.

Students accepted into the Santiago health studies program must have taken at least four semesters of college Spanish and be fairly fluent because all classes are conducted in Spanish. Le Veaux studied Spanish in her high school and college classes, as well as during a stay in Morelia, Mexico, the summer after her freshman year of college.

“I really made leaps and bounds in my proficiency when I was in Mexico,” said Le Veaux, who calls Salem, Ore., home. “I’ve really grown to love the language and I hope to go someplace after graduation where I can use it.”

IES chose Santiago as a location for its summer courses because “we decided it has one of the more interesting situations,” said Tamira Harris, program dean for Delhi, England and Latin America. It provides the students with exposure to several settings -- rural clinics, private clinics and private hospitals.

“So far, our feedback has been positive,” she added. “Each summer we are getting more and more applications. Interest is growing. Students have said that medical Spanish is invaluable to them as they move forward in their careers.”

So have the experiences, Le Veaux said.

“The most memorable experience for me was the time that I got to visit Urgencia Maternidad (the labor and delivery wing) of the hospital at the university I attended (La Pontifica Universidad Catolica de Chile). I had the opportunity to see two births in one day. One was a cesarean; the other a vaginal birth. At the vaginal birth, the doctor asked me to sit right next to him as he delivered the baby…(then) he handed her off to me while he went about cutting the umbilical cord and filling a vial with cord blood. It was amazing to hold a seconds-old newborn in my arms as she took her first breaths. I was ecstatic for the rest of the day.”

Le Veaux credits this experience for her current interest in obstetrics.

“I only hope that I can get some of the same types of experiences this summer as I enter my OB rotation back here in Portland.”

The instructors were very helpful and even arranged experiences that weren’t officially in the curriculum. For instance, “they helped one student who was interested in heart disease to visit with a cardiologist, and another who wanted to observe in the NICU. They made sure we got a well rounded picture of the health system.”

Making new friends – both inside and outside the program – has also made for a treasured experience.

“Friends helped to show me a lot about the culture and warmth of Chile and the Chilean people,” Le Veaux said. “They are friends that I still stay in contact with and will never forget. This chance to study abroad is an amazing experience. You learn about yourself and grow and learn about the world outside the U.S., and a lot of students don’t do that.”

The cost of the 2008 program is $5,850 and includes tuition, housing, meals and health insurance. Visit IESabroad.org.

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