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College grows study abroad experiences

Student Sayuri Fujita with twins

UIC College of Nursing faculty are expanding study abroad options for students, with courses offered this summer in Rwanda and the twin island Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis, and more opportunities in the works.

“This concerted effort to give our nursing students more formal study abroad experiences aligns with our vision as a college, which calls for preparing nurses who can lead change globally,” says Rohan Jeremiah, PhD, interim associate dean for global health. “While we had to take a pause from international learning experiences for the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are thrilled to be offering even more courses this summer.”

Students and faculty in the Rwandan study abroad program

In 2019, clinical assistant professor Gwyneth Milbrath, PhD, RN, MPH, worked with the UIC Study Abroad Office to establish the college’s first faculty-led study abroad course. The course, Disaster Preparedness and Global Health in the Caribbean, a three-credit class in St. Kitts and Nevis, opened the possibility for more formal study abroad experiences for nursing students.

“Carving out study abroad opportunities, particularly for pre-licensure nursing students, has historically been difficult because of the structure of the nursing program, which is jam-packed and doesn’t require electives,” says Milbrath, who is also associate director of the college’s Global Health Leadership Office. “But with careful scheduling and deliberate content development, we’ve been able to develop courses that fit within the curriculum’s scope and timing.”

The experiences offered in summer 2022 included:

  • St. Kitts and Nevis: In late May, Milbrath returned to St. Kitts and Nevis with 14 interdisciplinary students from UIC. Students worked with the country’s National Emergency Management Agency on a project to survey residents about needs related to COVID-19 and food security. Co-leading the course was Audrey Snyder of the University of North Carolina Greensboro, who brought six students.
  • Rwanda: Visiting professor Pamela Meharry, PhD, CNM, RN, is faculty director for Global Maternal and Child Health in Rwanda. The six-credit, month-long course is the first-ever maternal and child health course offered by the UIC Study Abroad Office. A mix of midwifery, graduate-entry master’s and public health students spent the month of July there.

Study abroad experiences in development for 2023 and 2024 include:

  • Spain: Assistant professor Susan Kilroy, PhD ’20, RN, CHSE, and Milbrath are developing a summer 2023 study abroad course for pre-health and health sciences students in Pamplona, Spain. They both served as visiting instructors for a weeklong workshop on cross-cultural perspectives on healthcare at the University of Navarra this summer, which was attended by two UIC Nursing students from the Urbana campus.
  • Ireland: Urbana campus director Krista Jones received funding to create a proposal for a study abroad program in Dublin, Ireland. She will travel there in February to develop the full proposal, with a tentative start date of summer 2024. The proposed course will be open to health sciences students and will provide a comparative focus on healthcare systems, with an emphasis on community-based care.
Urbana students Carrie Wolter and Maggie Moore

‘I can’t just think about the U.S.’

For Sayuri Fujita, MPH, a student in the graduate-entry master’s program who participated in the St. Kitts and Nevis program, global health has always been a “calling.” She adds that emergency preparedness is one of her interests, particularly because natural disasters affect the lives of people across the globe.

“I lived in the Philippines when I was younger and having a global perspective has always been a part of me,” says Fujita, whose father is Japanese and mother is Filipino. “I can’t just think about the U.S., even though I am an American citizen. I still have people all over the world that I care about.”

Prior to 2019, graduate and professional students had opportunities to earn clinical practicum hours in international settings – such as through clinical associate professor’s Sue Walsh’s work in Haiti or with the Department of Midwifery at Karolinska Institute in Sweden – but those were not for-credit courses through the university’s official study abroad office.

Milbrath says study abroad experiences allow nursing students to experience the strengths of health care models that are different than the U.S. system. They also get to see how the scope of practice for nurses can be broader or more limited in other parts of the world.

“I think it’s really good to see other cultures and see other ways of doing things, especially because students are in learning mode and have an open mind,” Milbrath says. “That can help us to think of more creative ways to address some of the challenges we have here.”