URI students examine health care in Indonesia

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Nursing, pharmacy and physical therapy students participate in interdisciplinary exploration of global health issues and social determinants of health

URI students meet with Indonesian students
URI students (left) meet with Indonesian students (right) at a university in the city of Yogyakarta. Photo courtesy of Heather Marty

KINGSTON, R.I. – March 28, 2016 –Twelve University of Rhode Island students studying nursing, pharmacy and physical therapy spent two weeks in Indonesia to get a firsthand look at the country’s health care system. The trip was offered through URI’s January term.

After 30 hours of traveling and stopping in three cities, the group had the opportunity to meet and work with international students, compare URI’s nursing program to the Indonesian program and explore new initiatives developing in the global healthcare setting. This was the first time the University offered a global health and interdisciplinary trip.

“One of the key missions of our University is to expand our global presence and to provide our students with international educational opportunities. We tried to create an intense experience in interdisciplinary global health for students in several of the URI health fields,” said Paul Larrat, dean of the College of Pharmacy and coordinating dean of the URI Academic Health Collaborative.

The group stayed in Surabaya, Yogyakarta, and Bali visiting unique health programs in urban and rural settings. The URI contingent discussed social determinants of health with Indonesian health professionals, clients and students.

During their time, they visited three universities in each city and those universities connected them with different health centers and hospitals in the area. The students interacted with Indonesian university students to see how their healthcare education programs work.

Jennifer Audette, URI assistant professor of physical therapy, said the first goal of the trip was to increase the students’ knowledge of each other’s disciplines. Most importantly, the faculty wanted the students to learn about what those same disciplines do in another country.

“This was a great group. They were so mature, respectful, and curious. They were eager to know more about each other’s professions. I’ve traveled abroad with many groups of students. Always, my favorite part is witnessing the excitement that comes when students have new – and sometimes unusual – experiences. The wonderment when they learn something new about each other, the place they are in, the people they meet, or the challenges of travel is so great! This trip was certainly full of those moments of wonder,” said Audette.

For nursing students, Heather Marty and Gabrielle Rate it was their first time out of the country. Rate, a senior from East Longmeadow, Mass. said that adjusting to a new country for the first time was a long and worthy journey of overcoming various obstacles and fears, but it provided her with an invaluable learning experience.

“After spending a few days in Indonesia, I quickly learned that their values are centered on religion, family and love. I’ve come to learn that these values are the central driving forces that form the basis of their healthcare system and cultural practices, which ultimately is something we can learn from in the United States,” said Rate. “It was refreshing to see people who were so appreciative of the little things and who slowed down and took the time to enjoy every aspect of life.”

Marty, a senior from Richmond, R.I. says she went to Indonesia because she believes it is important for a nurse to be culturally competent. This was also a chance for her to learn more about a different culture and traveling abroad was something she felt she needed to do before she becomes a nurse.

“I experienced how Indonesians work with limited resources, and what they do to keep their community happy and healthy. Throughout the trip I thought more about health promotion and the assessment of a patient,” Marty said. “Pharmacy students thought about which drugs would be most effective for the patient, and physical therapy students thought about the rehabilitative process that the patient might require. We worked together to come up with ideas for how we might treat patients with leprosy, HIV, and women with pregnancy complications.”

Assistant Clinical Professor of the College of Nursing Michelle Palmer is a firm believer that interdisciplinary trips should be incorporated into a student’s educational experience.

“We need to do more of this. This is hugely important in the student experience and something I can speak to from having been outside of the country. It is a norm for other countries to do an overseas experience. It’s a norm for Europe. It’s a norm for New Zealand. It’s a norm even for Indonesia. It is expected that they will not just have the perspective of their own country and they will branch out. It should be a norm here and we should work to make this possible. Experiences like these can truly change a student’s life,” said Palmer.

“Our students not only learned a bit about the health challenges and public health strategies in a fascinating developing country, they learned together as an interdisciplinary team,” Larrat said. “By collaborating with each other and with professionals and students from our partner institutions in Indonesia, they have shared experiences that will last for a lifetime.”

Audette and Palmer are already planning for next year’s trip and hope more students at the University will have the opportunity to travel abroad and learn more about their future professions.

This release was written by Caitlin Musselman, a URI Marketing and Communications intern and a public relations and political science major.