24 nursing students, along with five faculty members from Sacred Heart University visited Antigua, Guatemala for a Global Immersion Trip from Oct. 21 through Oct. 29. The students received clinical hours during the trip.
Primarily, the students provided free health care through clinics to local families. They also installed water filters in local homes, allowing for access to clean water.
“There was also a free day excursion that offered exciting opportunities to further explore Guatemala, which for this trip included touring a coffee plantation and hiking a volcanic trail,” said clinical assistant professor Norman Weller, who attended and overlooked the trip.
“The purpose of the trip is to provide a rich experience where students are immersed into another culture to better understand healthcare and the needs of others from that experience and integrate these experiences into their practice as student nurses and beyond,” he said.
Professor Jeannette Koziel, team lead for the trip, said that this trip was an important opportunity for students, especially post-Covid.
“I first heard about the Guatemala trip before I came to Sacred Heart. The global healthcare mission trips were a huge draw to the school,” said senior Julia Samiotes. “Since Covid happened, when I heard about them re-opening the program I had to jump on the opportunity to go.”
The Sacred Heart community assisted with the success of the trip through donations.
“This trip would have not been possible without fundraising,” said Koziel. “Alone, I raised $5,525 for this trip. Students raised money and requested items in order to provide care to patients.”
Senior Francesca Catrone gained a new outlook on the world’s material culture during this trip.
“It can be easy to overlook the abundance of opportunities and resources we are offered here within the States when we are so used to living in a materialistic world, worrying about the next hot new item or piece of merchandise on the market,” said Catrone.
According to the Central Intelligence Agency, there are 1.24 physicians per 1,000 citizens in Guatemala. Healthcare is not as accessible in other countries.
“The patient that stuck with me the most was a little girl who was 10-years-old who has had a known seizure disorder her whole life, but because of where they live, she’d been on the same dose of medication for four years,” Samiotes said. “The medications for seizures in kids are based on their weight and obviously, she’s grown a lot in four years, so when she came in she had two seizures at the clinic and said that she has, baseline, five to seven seizures a day.”
Samiotes said she learned lessons of “appreciation and patience,” recalling children with ripped shoe soles and patients who waited upwards of six hours to receive healthcare.
“Each patient and their family waited with such honorable grace and patience, whereas we may find annoyance in our pharmacies and clinics here in the States if and when they take longer than 5-10 minutes to call us into their office or provide medications,” Catrone said.
While the patients were able to benefit from medical treatments, the SHU students gained memories that will impact their future careers.
“I had the opportunity to prepare a to-go package for a lady who was unable to see, which she has never had access to getting glasses or even going to an eye doctor. I provided her with a pair of reading glasses to take home,” Catrone said. “I will never forget the way her face lit up when I gave her the glasses and she put them on for the first time, realizing she could finally see.”
Weller has now attended a mission trip to Guatemala as both a student and a professor at Sacred Heart.
“The first [trip] was as an MSN student in 2017, just before the completion of my degree. I chose to be involved then to experience healthcare and access to care from the perspective of another culture and apply what I learned to my daily practice as a nurse, something I was able to do quickly upon return. I continue to do this as faculty,” Weller said.
“Moments like these were extremely rewarding and fulfilling, and I am forever grateful for SHU’s College of Nursing and the opportunities it has provided me with,” Catrone said.