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Learning the Importance of Healing in Ecuador

This past spring, BYU nursing students had the opportunity to spend three weeks learning and practicing the Healer's art in Ecuador. In addition, they experienced healthcare in and out of the hospital setting: volunteering in the community, shadowing nurses, and learning about traditional healing.

Nursing students in hospitals completed shifts to learn about healthcare from a different perspective. Hospitals in Ecuador look different from facilities in the U.S. A typical floor would be crowded. Felice Andersen, a BYU nursing student, said, “Nurses make rounds and administer medications, but a lot of the time, the family takes blood pressure and checks the patient’s temperature. The responsibility of patient care is family heavy, and patients who didn’t have family or funding might receive care or be out of luck.” It was an eye-opening experience for the nursing students, who learned how to use resources effectively to provide the best care for the most people. Felice praised the nurses saying, I have so much respect for the nurses that worked in environments like that because they have to be so creative and ingenious. They would use supplies that I would never even dream of using in one way, but they had to get the job done, and they weren’t going to wait around for perfect circumstances. They were very determined, strong, and compassionate through it all.” She continues, “I am grateful in America that we have a healthcare system that, despite its flaws, is trying to take care of people.”

Some of the BYU students got the opportunity to visit a psychiatric hospital while in Ecuador. A nurse working in the hospital shared her experience with the students and told them about her job. The visit, specifically the psychiatric nurse’s story, impacted Felice. She shared what this experience was like for her and how her assumptions changed. “In America, that’s a scary unit. You don’t let yourself be in a room alone with a patient, you don’t turn your back to a patient, and you are always on high alert because it is a dangerous area.” In this particular hospital, however, they walked right in to see the patients openly playing basketball. The nurse for that unit began to share her story. “When that particular nurse first got hired, most of the guys were medicated half the week. The nurse described the patients as being in a zombie-like state because that made them easier to take care of, and they didn’t cause problems. This nurse was sent to work in an underfunded and understaffed area but took it upon herself to say no, that’s not how these patients deserve to be cared for.” She continued the story by saying, “Over the last few years, she’s worked to make the patients a true family. She celebrates all of their birthdays, father's days, and milestones they make in their treatment. She went above and beyond to make each of the men feel special and welcomed, maybe for the first time in their life.” That nurse and her efforts inspired Felice and encouraged her to look at patients with equal respect and care no matter their circumstances.

When the students weren’t working in the hospitals, they had opportunities to serve the community. They worked with different volunteer groups and gave lessons to community members on nutrition, disease prevention, safe sex, and other health-related topics that schools didn’t have time or funding to teach. During one of their lessons Rose Bonin, a BYU nursing student, had a unique experience. While teaching in a women’s shelter, she noticed a blind woman. She said, “I learned about her experience with abuse, which was the reason for her blindness. She suffered so much in her life, but her main focus on being there was her desire to become more independent so that she could be helpful to other people.” The woman expressed how she had depended on people her whole life. She was not able to work because of her disability. During the session, she asked Rose many questions about what she could do to help others and even herself if there was a medical problem. Rose was able to teach her tactile ways to help. This was a learning experience for the blind woman and Rose. She said, “The woman wanted to give what she had to other people, which was amazing. I found that same story with many of the women I talked to. As nursing students, we were able to help people learn how to help each other, which was neat.” 

In addition to their clinics, each day, the students were able to sightsee and experience the culture of Ecuador. They hiked through beautiful scenery, went shopping at local markets, and visited jungle animal sanctuaries. One particular day for their activity, they were introduced to an indigenous healer. He practiced ancient medicine that had been handed down for centuries. He showed them his rituals and assessments for healing energy. Feliece said, “It was cool because it was unlike anything we have in the United States. It was very sacred and a central part of Ecuadorian culture.”

The Ecuador session of the clinical practicum for the public and global health nursing course was a unique opportunity filled with learning experiences. As the students interacted with patients, nurses, people in the community, and even an indigenous healer, it was apparent that the people of Ecuador truly understood the importance of the Healer’s art.