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Caring on a global scale

The College of Nursing's Global Health Collaborative is changing lives and communities on the international, national, and local levels.

Nursing students with Prof Maryellen Brisbois at the New Bedford Boys & Girls Club
Nursing students with Prof. Maryellen Brisbois at a local Boys & Girls Club.

By Steve Scallon

The College of Nursing Global Health Collaborative is changing lives and  communities on the international, national, and local levels.

When Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake in 2010, a group of UMass Dartmouth nursing students and faculty traveled there to deliver healthcare to a traumatized population. Helping those in need is part of the College of Nursing's tradition of changing lives by bringing healthcare to vulnerable communities.

Student-led organization dedicated to caring

Since then, teams of junior and senior nursing students and faculty have spent a week or two in that Caribbean country every year. Those trips led to the formation of the University of Massachusetts College of Nursing Global Health Collaborative in 2014, a student-led organization that also cares for people in the Azores, Mississippi, and communities surrounding the university.

"The 10 students who went on the 2014 trip were visionaries. They saw their work was important both domestically and abroad," said Maryellen Brisbois, assistant professor of nursing and the Collaborative's faculty advisor. She helped organize the trips to Haiti with Professor Paula Walsh as an outgrowth of her own interest in healthcare for vulnerable populations.

Students in a nursing exchange program in the Azores, Portugal
A nursing exchange program with the Azores supports learning and health initiatives.

Sustainable partnerships to improve people's health

Today the group boasts 90 members with an expansive mission—to "create sustainable partnerships among colleges in the university, local community, and global community to improve the health of populations through engagement and entrepreneurial collaboration."

"Student involvement across campus has been amazing," Brisbois said.

Before their annual trip to Haiti, students collected more than 400 pounds of donated medical and dental supplies, as well as toys and other items for children and their families. Once there, nursing students helped with patient care in mobile clinics and participated in reconstruction efforts. Some students learned Haitian Creole in order to create health promotion materials.

"I was grounded by the beauty and simplicity of the Haitian culture," said Olivia Bergandy '17, Collaborative vice president. "I was inspired by the strength, pride, and resilience exuded by the Haitians I encountered. And I was left speechless by their eagerness to give so much when they had so little."

Nursing students in Haiti
Nursing students provide care in Haiti.

Projects close to home & around the world

Closer to home, the group works with United Neighbors of Fall River, where they go out into the community and perform healthcare screenings for homeless families. The collaborative also performs foot clinics at Sister Rose's House, a homeless shelter in New Bedford. The College of Nursing has partnered with Healthfirst Family Care Center, Inc. to create a process to ensure there is appropriate follow-up care for these often neglected citizens.

In 2015, the DeMello Charitable Foundation provided UMass Dartmouth with the financial support to form a community health alliance with the University of the Azores. Today, student nurses from UMassD and the Azores participate in an exchange program and work with populations of deportees.

Under a new Massachusetts law, immigrants who have been convicted of crimes in the past, even minor crimes, may be deported to their country of origin. Many deportees now living in the Azores had parents who had become U.S. citizens, but had not obtained citizenship for their immigrant children. In some cases, convicted of minor crimes in their teenage years, these young adults grew up, worked, and paid taxes until suddenly they found themselves deported.

The UMassD students have traveled to the Azores to assess health needs and help people maneuver through a new healthcare system. Being deportees, these people are stigmatized. Many don't speak the native language and have difficulty thriving in their new surroundings.

The Collaborative also traveled to Mississippi where students walked door-to-door, assessing the health needs of a small town of about 150 people. Only one person in town had a full-time job and there was only one car. Working with the Collaborative allows nursing students to put their classroom learning to work in the benefit of people who most need their help.

Clinical experiences prepare student nurses for their careers

"Our experience in the field not only enforces what we learn in class, but it exposes us to situations that remind us of why we chose nursing in the first place— o be that helping hand, that source of comfort, that voice of reason," said Bergandy. "Clinical experience allows us to get a feel for the career we have committed to, a career of making a difference."

Chelsea Correia '17, president of the Global Health Collaborative, said her experiences have made her consider a career in community health. And her exposure to different health care systems, economic and political systems, cultures, and languages has broadened her concerns.

"Breaking out of my shell to work with vulnerable populations in Southeastern Massachusetts and Ponta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel, in the Azores, has opened my eyes to all that needs to be changed in our community and abroad," she said. "Educating from a nursing standpoint is just the beginning."

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College of Nursing, Features - Magazine, Features - Leadership & Service
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