Providing medical care in a building with unpredictable electricity, observing cataract surgeries performed by the light of a flashlight and with local anesthesia, caring for patients while dealing with language barriers, making friends and bridging cultural gaps – that’s how a group of Hesston College nursing students spent their spring break.
Rural India is not a typical college student spring break destination. But for the group of seven nursing students and one of their instructors, it was the spring break trip of a lifetime.
While many of their classmates used the week away from classes to relax, the group traveled 32 hours one way – 20 of those hours in the air – adjusted to an 11 and a half-hour time difference and went without the comforts and amenities of home to spend two weeks observing and working in India’s health care system Feb. 29 to March 13.
The group was hosted by Menno-Clinic, India in the southern village of Chiluvuru, Andhra Pradesh, for a cross-cultural experience that provided them with clinical opportunities in a new environment and culture while putting their growing nursing knowledge to practice.
“Nursing care is really universal,” said Jean Rodgers, the nursing instructor who accompanied the students. “Nurses throughout the world have the same basic care knowledge. This was an opportunity for the students to experience nursing care from a much different cultural sense than they are used to.”
Menno-Clinic opened in 2002 as an affordable option for medical care. Dental and eye care were added in 2007. The vision for the clinic was started by Dr. Subbarao “Doc” and Olga Yarlagadda who wanted to help improve the lives of the people in their native country. With support and fundraising assistance from the Emma Mennonite Church congregation in Topeka, Ind., and other Mennonite churches and organizations around the world, the clinic became a reality.
Doc, who now lives in Memphis, Tenn., accompanied the Hesston group along with Hesston College alumni John C. Murray and his son John N. Murray. The elder Murray was lead pastor of Emma Mennonite Church during the clinic’s early stages and now serves as lead pastor at Hesston (Kan.) Mennonite Church. John N. is a youth pastor at Trinity Mennonite Church in Glendale, Ariz.
“When Menno-Clinic was started, part of the dream was to bring people from the United States to engage in the clinic, so this was like a dream come true,” said the elder Murray, who serves on the clinic’s board of directors. “The people at the clinic were grateful for these students who took an interest in them and who they are and made them feel valued and cared for. The interactions were a step in helping break down long-standing caste barriers.”
The students spent several days at Menno-Clinic working in a rotation to participate in different aspects of the clinic – taking blood pressures and pulses at the initial check in, helping doctors in the exam room, observing cataract surgeries and other procedures at the eye clinic and in the lab and pharmacy. They also visited local government operated and private hospitals where they were able to see the differences in health care between the United States and India and even within India itself.
“The standards of care in India are different than the standards we follow in the U.S.,” said Rachel Tippin (Elbing, Kan.). “I learned it’s important to not judge the system because of its limitations and just learn as much as I can.”
Government-run health care in India means free health care, but the students saw how it has greatly decreased the quality of care in government hospitals. A lack of funds, resources and staff make sanitary conditions and proper care difficult.
“I was really struck by the conditions of the hospitals,” said Logan Duerksen (Newton, Kan.). “They try their best to keep the hospitals sanitary, but it’s difficult for the staff to help people get better when they are exposed to so much – even in the hospitals.”
Outside of the clinic and hospitals, the group spent time getting to know local people and becoming acquainted with the culture and beliefs. They attended a Hindu wedding, spent a day playing with children at an orphanage and led Sunday school at a local Christian church.
The group also took time to go from house to house in the village visiting with John C.’s friends from his nine previous visits to India and learning about their lives and families.
“The hospitality the people showed us was overwhelming,” said Kara Ropp (Kalona, Iowa). “They were eager to host us and made us feel like old friends.”
In a country where Christians, Muslims and Hindus make up the majority of the population, the Hesston students had commonalities with only a handful of those with whom they interacted. The country’s historical idea of a caste system also presented difficulties as the students tried to connect with and give back to the people assisting them during the trip. Yet they found that the differences didn’t matter all that much.
“We came from different backgrounds and beliefs, but it was great to be able to come together over food and conversation to fellowship, eat and laugh,” said Anna Yoder (Garden City, Mo.).
As the students returned to campus to finish the remaining seven weeks of the semester and process the impact of the trip, they found that their worlds and professional understandings have grown.
“The trip was beneficial to me as a nurse because it helped me see how important it is to be considerate of the different cultures and lifestyles within a community,” said Duerksen. “Nursing is more than just the medical aspect – it’s valuing relationships with patients and co-workers so they are reminded that they matter.”
Read more about the Hesston College Nursing students’ trip here.