In the coming months, college students across the U.S. will make their annual southern pilgrimage for fun in the sun. At the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, however, 16 students have a different agenda for a southern spring break: providing hands-on help to communities in need.
Twelve students will travel to New Orleans March 12-20 to rebuild houses with the Episcopal Church Diocese of Louisiana and volunteer in the Touro Hospital Emergency Room and at a health clinic for the homeless. The Hopkins Student Nurse Relief Corps (HSNRC), a sub-group of the Johns Hopkins National Student Nurses Association, has sponsored the spring break trip to New Orleans for the past five years. On January 31, the group hosted a Creole Charity Gala, which netted more than $5,000 to cover the cost of this years trip.
Senior Tal Raizer, co-leader of the New Orleans trip, remembers how shocked she was during last year’s spring break. “I had no idea that the situation was still so dire,” she says of post-Katrina New Orleans. “This is more than just a great experience to my nursing career. The educational value and the cultural experience are completely different than nursing clinical skills, and it helps to bring me closer to certain populations and cultures.”
Four other students will head further south to Catacamas, Honduras for spring break. Not affiliated with any official Hopkins group, junior Kari Hatfield and her classmates chose to volunteer with Predisan, a Christian healthcare organization dedicated to the region surrounding Catacamas. Predisan, in turn, requested that the nursing students create educational workshops on pre- and post-natal care.
“In our research, we’ve learned that Honduras has high rates of infant and maternal mortality rates,” Hatfield notes. Using the group’s collective Spanish-language skills, they will cover topics such as nutrition in pregnancy using basic visual aids and materials they’ve designed.
Two of the four are former Peace Corps volunteers, and all have an interest in global health, explains Hatfield, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in China. “Our spring break trip started with several Peace Corps Fellows talking about an international service trip open to all nursing undergraduates,” she says. The students completely organized and funded the trip, raising approximately $1,200 from a massage fundraiser, an alumni grant, and individual donations. Hatfield’s goal is to create an official student group working with the Office of Global Nursing to implement future, larger scale service-learning trips.
“Service-learning trips let us experience the other side of the medical spectrum and open up our eyes to the difference in facilities,” Hatfield explains. “At a clinic in Honduras, we won’t have a computer and will have to rely on old-fashioned paper charting. It also gives us a cultural competency in whatever field we practice.”