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Addison nursing students seek out experience, challenges on service trips

Published: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 3:15 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:57 p.m. CDT

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ADDISON — Speaking on travel, St. Augustine said the world was a book. As his likely apocryphal maxim goes, those who do not stir in it read only one page.

For three nursing students at Chamberlain College of Nursing in Addison, a trip last month halfway around the world provided them much more than that as they prepare to wrap up their degrees this year.

For several years, the college has sent nursing students on international service trips, exposing the soon-to-be nurses to real world situations en masse – in some cases, seeing thousands of patients over the course of a two-week trip.

'Adrenaline and excitement' in Nairobi

Sarah Strycker was expecting challenges when she headed to the slums of Kenya's capital. But she didn't know the challenges would begin even before her plane touched down.

Thanks to a flight delay, she and her group arrived in Nairobi a full day later than planned. Landing on a Monday – after a flight halfway around the world – they immediately began setting up shop and were seeing patients by Tuesday.

"We started organizing, had our meeting," said Strycker, 29, from Worth. "I think the adrenaline and the excitement took over."

In a way, the challenges are what attracted her to the program. She remembers reading other students' accounts from past trips.

"They had encountered people who had never received medical care before," she said. "That was just crazy to me."

Working with a consortium of doctors and nurses, many of them unknown to each other before the trip, Strycker visited three impoverished areas of Nairobi.

With scores of patients to see, they worked as a triage unit. Some saw patients as they came in, others worked in a pharmacy. Some worked to provide reading glasses.

"You're trying to help these people as best you can without any technology," Strycker said. "It was a lot of teamwork."

The difficulties – such as the language barrier – gave Strycker practical lessons in nursing, requiring more focus and attention.

"You're not missing the nonverbal queues," she said. "I think that even if I'm not nursing in a foreign country, you just pay attention more to the patient."

Beyond those lessons, Strycker also came back with a greater sense of appreciation. She remembers garbage lining the streets, almost everywhere, as children played among it.

"They [live in] little tin rooms. With some of them, if they're lucky, they have light," she recalled. "[At] first you feel really guilty for everything that you have. But then it turns into this appreciation for what you have."

'A whole different experience' in Brazil

About the same time Strycker was in Kenya, Kim Solis and her group were arriving in Brazil.

Their trip also took them into impoverished, urban areas – to a public hospital in Salvador, Brazil's third-largest city. But they ventured into rural areas, where access to health care is even more tenuous.

Solis, a 22-year-old from Glendale Heights who is following in her mother's footsteps to become a nurse, went to Brazil searching for a challenging experience.

Chamberlain's travel program matches students with their travel preference. Solis also looked at a service trip to the Philippines, but she is ethnically Filipino. She has been there before and she speaks the Tagalog language.

South America, on the other hand, was unfamiliar.

"In Brazil, it was a whole different experience," she said.

Nantida Kolodziej, a 26-year-old nursing student from Darien, joined Solis on her trip. She still recalls the feeling of offering medical care to someone for the first time in months or even years.

Especially for the rural populations they treated, it could be some time before there is access to care again.

"They don't have anyone to come follow up with them," Kolodziej said. "It's always a worry when you do these missions. Is it enough?"

Kolodziej, like Strycker and Solis, is due to graduate in October with a nursing degree. And, like her classmates, she said that without hesitation, she would go on another service trip.

"I want to continue to go on travel working trips," she said. "It's a different world out there when you treat people who have nothing."

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