This past spring, a group of nursing students traveled to Finland and Poland for their public and global health nursing course clinical practicum. The students planned to spend five weeks working in hospitals to refine their nursing skills. However, their schedule changed as the trip grew closer. “While we were in Finland, the nurses were on strike,” nursing student Symbria Lewis explained. Despite these circumstances, the students gained clinical experience through performing pediatric assessments and serving the Finnish community in other ways.
After their time in Finland, the students headed to Poland, where they served in a camp for Ukrainian refugees. Most students could not help in a medical capacity, but they helped distribute supplies and provide emotional support, especially to the children. One of the students, Natalie Wilson, served her mission in Ukraine. Because she could speak the language, Natalie was able to translate for the medics at the refugee camp. Many of the refugees were reluctant to accept care. Natalie explained, “Ukrainians have never had reliable medical care before. They didn’t trust those people that came around to help them.” Still, the medics and volunteers were able to serve the refugees in many ways, depending on their needs and circumstances.
Natalie said, “The Healer’s art to me is seeing what’s going on through your patients’ eyes, and that’s hard to do, especially if you’re dealing with different cultures.” She continued, “As Americans, we have this idea that you deserve what you get. It’s easy to have the mindset that if you have wealth or good things happen to you, then it’s something you did. Sometimes it’s like an unconscious thing when we think that way. And I think it is hard and might take a lifetime. But to look at people and think, you know, there’s no difference between you and me besides circumstance.” Many people worldwide seek ways to help Ukrainians during this difficult time. Although there aren’t many ways to help directly, Natalie implored, “Learn as much as possible about the war and what’s going on. Especially if Russia conquers Ukraine, it’s essential to keep the Ukrainian traditions alive.”
While in Poland, the nursing students also visited Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp and extermination center. Nicole Asay was particularly affected by her experience in Auschwitz. She shared, “We recognized a lot of the similarities between what happened in World War II and what’s happening right now in Ukraine: genocide, the poor treatment of people, and the disrespect of culture.” Yet, despite the circumstances of the Ukrainian refugees, many maintained optimism. Nicole asked a teenage refugee how he stays positive despite so much sadness. He responded, “I try to focus on what I can do and what I can control. I focus on the good. I see our situation as an opportunity to start again and understand myself and the world.”
The students grew as both nurses and people in Finland and Poland. For example, Symbria said, “Stacking boxes and sorting clothes rather than putting in IVs and distributing medication was something we didn’t expect when we left for a nursing study abroad. But it was an unexpected benefit because it taught us that even when we’re not in a hospital, there are so many ways in which we can practice the Healer’s art.”