Nova Scotia

Cape Breton University nursing students take classroom to Ecuador

The group of 21 to travelled to the South American country in February as part of a wider approach to learning their profession.

"So many amazing aspects," says fourth-year nursing student Madison Andrea

A group of 21 from Cape Breton University's nursing program travelled to Ecuador in February. (Submitted by Belinda Andrea)

A group from the Cape Breton University nursing program had their health-care horizons broadened during a recent trip to Quito, Ecuador, an experience that included how to diagnose disease using a guinea pig.

The group of 21 travelled to the South American country in February as part of a wider approach to learning their profession.

"We just wanted them to open the doors for them to be a little more curious and inquisitive — not to rely on just what they see in textbooks," instructor Belinda Andrea told CBC Cape Breton's Information Morning.

The trip was arranged through the organization United Planet, with the goal to learn from another culture and bring that knowledge home, Andrea said.

"There were so many amazing aspects," said her daughter, Madison Andrea, a fourth-year CBU nursing student. She and other students at the university worked in Quito hospitals, orphanages and geriatric clinics.

And then there was the guinea pig

They even went outside the city into a jungle area where they discovered an indigenous cultural practice for diagnosing health problems. It involves the guinea pig.

"Ecuadorian culture believes the guinea pig's body is the closest of any animal to human anatomy," Belinda Andrea said. 

Her daughter said the procedure involves rubbing the animal on the sick person's body. After the animal is sacrificed, it is cut open to analyze the patient's problem. 

"It's like their X-ray," Madison Andrea said, adding conventional medicine in Ecuador does indeed use real X-ray machines.

One of the nursing students volunteered for the traditional procedure. She had some back pain and headaches. 

"They told her to get her thyroid checked," said Madison Andrea.

Florence Nightingale would be pleased

As for hospital practices, she noted there was a more relaxed attitude about sterility in the operating room; for example, one person carried a newspaper in, another answered a cell phone.

But at the same time, hospital-acquired infections are low, Belinda Andrea said.

Madison Andrea said she took notice of one practice that would be applauded by Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

"They would open a window," she said. The point is to let in fresh air, something that is often not possible in Canadian hospitals.

Belinda Andrea summed up the experience as an opportunity for the students to use their critical thinking skills.

"I don't think now they're gonna read something in a book, and say—theory wise—that's the way it has to be done. Their minds have been opened."


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