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Nurse’s Global Health Calling Strengthens Communities & Students’ Skills

Sheri Sawchuk, DNP, APRN, NP-C, CNE, fell into nursing by providence – she attended an informational session for a local nursing program after driving a friend there and ultimately enrolled in classes herself for the following semester. In 2013, Sheri first learned of the Global Health Education Program (GHEP) at Chamberlain University from the program’s founder, Susan Fletcher, EdD, MSN, BSN. Today, after finding her passion at the intersection of nursing, education, and global health, and with 15 years of international relief work under her belt, Sheri leads nursing students on international GHEP trips to help up-and-coming nurses identify their nursing passions.

The GHEP program provides opportunities for nursing students at Chamberlain University to take their community health course in a global setting; it offers up to six trips each year to communities in countries like India, Kenya, and Haiti. With the goal of providing a unique, complete GHEP experience with each trip, Sheri and the GHEP team work tirelessly to ensure the student participants can contribute to sustainable projects in areas of need. Each trip requires six months of preparation, two weeks of immersion, and six weeks of online teaching upon returning home, in addition to the nursing education and activity that takes place onsite.

“We wear many hats: travel agent, logistics officer, accountant, safety officer, educator, mom. We negotiate rates for hotels and buses, find translators, and organize mobile clinics and clinical opportunities in each country,” Sheri said of the preparation for each GHEP trip. “We hold nightly debriefings during the immersion to discuss how we feel about what we are experiencing, why we struggle with certain experiences, and how to make sense of it once we return to our ’normal’ lives. We make ourselves available to participants for weeks, months, and even years after each trip.”

While serving as a volunteer nurse on her first GHEP trip to Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013, Sheri shared, the Kenyan partners were dedicated to making a difference in their community. She remembers the Chamberlain team offering hands-on care and health education, so the partners could continue providing care long after the GHEP team was gone. Nine young men – soccer players in the local Kenyan community – helped the GHEP team manage the crowds at the GHEP’s mobile clinics on that trip. As of September 2018, those same nine men continue to manage the clinics and run the program the GHEP students, faculty, and volunteers helped implement.

“It was not a hand out, it was a hand up,” Sheri recalls.

In addition to the mobile clinics in Kenya, Sheri shared that several other student-led projects continue to positively impact the local communities after GHEP trips. For example, one student started a breakfast program at a local school in Haiti to ensure each student received a full meal each day and continued to support the project for two years. Many of Sheri’s students shift their professional focus following their GHEP trip to embrace community health, primary care, and health education.

According to Sheri, students who embark on the GHEP trips strengthen their assessment and problem-solving skills, and continue to master implementing patience, empathy, and creativity into their practice long after the trip is over.

“I have always believed that stepping out of your comfort zone and experiencing another culture teaches you things about yourself that you wouldn’t know otherwise. It makes you a better nurse, and a better person,” Sheri said. “Watching students go from timid to tremendous, from fearful to fearless, from observers to doers, confirms everything I believed and more. I see the change even in the short time we are together.”

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