Nursing Students to Bring Healing and Hope to Jamaica

News Story: October 28, 2009
College life brings many responsibilities including the demands of class work and homework. And for some Sacred Heart University students, there’s the added “assignment” of far-away-from-home-work.

A delegation of SHU nursing students left Connecticut on October 10th to spend the week in Kingston, Jamaica – not for a relaxing week in the sun but for an intensive internship that combines the lessons of their health sciences curriculum with an outreach to the people of the Third World.

The delegation consists of 10 senior nursing students as well as two graduate students in the University’s Family Nurse Practitioner program. One of the undergrads, Grace Scagnelli, was joined by her father. Dr. Greg Scagnelli is a New York pediatrician whose specialty is gastrointestinal health and who has done volunteer work in Central America before. Two Massachusetts students, Alanna Birner and Jennie Porter, were SHU’s student leaders and helped with organizing the trip and with fundraising.

Leading the group from Sacred Heart were two members of the faculty in the College of Education and Health Professions. Dr. Julie Stewart, of the graduate faculty, has been at SHU full time for the past couple of years, and she delivers specialty and primary care for HIV-infected patients. A veteran of an earlier volunteer mission in Honduras, she provides free healthcare to patients at AmeriCares in South Norwalk, Connecticut. Sheryl Watson is a master’s level nurse who has been teaching in the undergraduate program for a year. A volunteer nurse for the past nine years, she has been on 13 different missions. Watson is a board member for PRN, Relief International, of Fairfield, which is sponsoring October’s trip. The group has been active in Jamaica for a decade.

Over the course of a week, the Sacred Heart contingent expected to see more than a thousand patients at two separate Kingston clinics. They dealt with medical conditions that in the United States are fairly routine such as high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, and children’s infections. More advanced interventions, performed with a team of fellow volunteers including specialty surgeons, included major gynecological and general surgeries.

Dr. Stewart pointed out that the University “ambassadors” will be teaching as well as learning. They instructed local community leaders how to take “vital signs,” for example, tend to their medications, and change wound dressings. PRN, which has a longstanding relationship with the people of the area, sends two delegations a year to Kingston and provides medical supplies.

She explains that the SHU students volunteered for this mission to be of service to others while learning of medical conditions in the developing world: “We will have the invaluable experience of helping those who are less fortunate than us, to practice nursing and medicine using the basic skills, to work as a team, to gain an appreciation of another culture, and to make a small difference in the world.”

This is the first time the University’s Nursing program has participated in a project of this magnitude, and it is hoped the program can be repeated and expand from here.