Nursing Students without Borders

Article excerpt

This visionary student organization was founded at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in November 1999 by a group of nursing students who desired to share their health care knowledge with populations that have inadequate access to health care resources and education. Because the scope of nursing is multidisciplinary in nature, members include nursing students, doctors, dietitians, and sociologists, as well as faculty and community members. Currently, Nursing Students Without Borders (NSWB) at UVA is working in two settings: the town of San Sebastian, El Salvador, and in migrant farm-worker camps in the Charlottesville area.

NSWB is dedicated to the ideal of health care sustainability through the provision of knowledge and tools to promote the long-term health of the community. The organization promotes health empowerment through education, building networks to access health care resources, and distributing' material donations to underserved communities. A concurrent objective is to expand the perspective of the nursing student by developing leadership skills and cultural awareness, and fostering personal and professional development. The population-based health model adopted by NSWB focuses on primary and secondary levels of prevention, specifically assessment, screening, and community education targeting identified areas of concern.

Surviving an Earthquake Team members plan to make several 9- to 14-day visits to San Sebastian per year for three years. Two trips were made in March and July 2000. During the third trip, in January 2001, eight members of NSWB were working in San Sebastian when massive earthquakes shook El Salvador. This earthquake, and a subsequent one February 2001, have led to homelessness, death, and national despair. Over 1,200 people were killed. Thousands remain missing. One in six families are homeless. Fortunately, the NSWB members were not injured, but the experience redefined many of the short-term goals for the group. The priorities are now prevention of communicable diseases such as dengue fever, cholera, and rotavirus, reconstruction of homes, and securing safe water sources.

During the first post-earthquake trip, in May 2001, NSWB will assist in a comprehensive damage assessment, provide education regarding prevention of communicable diseases, and donate funds for the reconstruction of houses. From this experience, students learned a valuable lesson. Flexibility and accommodation are central to the role of the nurse, as it is imperative to accommodate the changing needs of the client. For NSWB, this entails responding to the post-earthquake needs of the community.

Working with the Red Cross NSWB is fortunate to work closely with the Red Cross (Cruz Roja) chapter of San Sebastian. One doctor and 65 volunteers, ages 12 and up, provide service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Red Cross clinic functions as a doctor's office, rescue squad, and health education facility. After working hours, Red Cross volunteers are the sole providers of emergency health care in San Sebastian, and must arrange transport, if necessary, to the nearest hospital, 45 minutes away by vehicle. A formidable challenge in providing emergency care is their lack of an ambulance. NSWB has secured a donated ambulance and aims to have it delivered by summer 2001. The members of the Red Cross are not only NSWB's hosts and guides, but are the past, present, and future health care providers of San Sebastian.

Community Assessment During Spring Break of 2000, students traveled to San Sebastian to perform an in-depth community assessment, providing a framework for developing programs specific to the needs of the community. The location was a crossroads for guerrilla wartime atrocities throughout a 12year civil war that ended in 1992. From walls riddled with bullet holes to a wary population, San Sebastian suffers in terms of isolation, lack of economic development, and the loss of loved ones. …