Nursing students develop international perspective on exchange

A transatlantic exchange programme has seen nursing students from Scotland and America compare their countries’ healthcare systems and university training, as part of a strategic partnership between the cities of Aberdeen and Houston.

Two students from Houston Baptist University (HBU) have spent the past two weeks in the North-east, working alongside their counterparts and academic staff from Robert Gordon University (RGU), as well as NHS Grampian.

During their stay, American students Laura Waters and Leslie Rodriguez have undertaken a programme of activities, including clinical placements and community nursing visits, health professions classes, social activities and civic receptions.

Laura said: “We’ve loved every second of our time here and it’s been amazing to see how different things are here from back home.

“Obviously, the biggest is that you do have access to healthcare, regardless of socio-economics, which is wonderful. It might not be as quick as some people like, but it’s still there. Back home, if you don’t have the means to get healthcare, then you probably don’t have a good health outcome.

“It’s also been enlightening to see the push for non-pharmacological treatments all across your system, where there’s a real thought process around lifestyle choices and changes you can make to improve your health. It’s not just ‘Oh, you have this? Here’s a pill’, which we struggle with in the US.”

Leslie said: “I had an interest in midwifery, so getting to see my first delivery really put the cherry on top of this experience.

“I love how the midwives here are so human, making the environment so peaceful and comfortable for both parents. They will hold their hands and talk to them throughout the delivery – while in the US, you just hear the doctor shouting ‘push’.”

Laura added: “On top of what Leslie’s said, it’s been great to see how much the physicians and the nurses or midwives interact and talk to each other. Even the nurse to nursing student relationship is incredible – they make it so you never feel uncomfortable about asking questions and there’s a really nice atmosphere of support and partnership.”

The pair have also been able to explore Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire during their visit, spending time at Gordon Castle and the Tivoli Theatre, as well as getting fish and chips and ice cream in Stonehaven.

Laura said: “We got a real sense for everything Scottish at the Gordon Castle Highland Games at the weekend – from watching the Games and country dancing, to me trying some haggis and tatties.

“Everyone has been so welcoming and it’s been great to just immerse ourselves in the culture. I’ll be hearing traditional Scottish music in my head for a while now!”

Second year RGU nursing students Helena Buley and Tara Tully have worked closely with Laura and Leslie over the past two weeks.

They will travel to Houston in September for their own exchange visit, where they will be given the chance to learn more about nursing in the US.

Helena said: “I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how the university and nursing training works. I know there is more of a priority on pharmacology, which isn’t in our own curriculum, as nurses here don’t focus on drugs and medications.”

Tara said: “It’ll also be interesting to see how the private sector operates when it comes to the equality of healthcare, with the American system being more money and insurance-based.”

When asked what else they were looking forward to on their return trip, both Helena and Tara answered simultaneously: “NASA!”

The exchange programme is part of the ‘Sister City’ relationship between the two cities and is one of the key projects supported and financed by the Grampian-Houston Association (GHA) and Houston-Grampian Association (HGA).

Originally launched in 1994, the renowned knowledge-sharing exchange is now in its 24th year and has allowed dozens of trainee nurses to learn from each countries’ respective healthcare system, university nursing education and culture.

Katie Baxter, lecturer and US Exchange Coordinator at RGU’s School of Nursing and Midwifery, said: “This has been my first year of working on this exchange and it’s been a real pleasure seeing how much the students gain from this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“On behalf of the School, I’d like to thank the GHA and HGA for providing this wonderful opportunity, and of course our incredible clinical colleagues, who consistently go above and beyond.”

Jim Shiach, Chairman of the GHA, said: “The student nursing exchange is now one of our well-established links with Houston. It provides a great opportunity for trainee nurses and the value of the scheme is recognised by both universities involved.

“Next year, we are looking forward to celebrating the 25th anniversary of the exchange and also the 40th birthday of our twinning relationship with America’s fourth largest city.”

After meeting all four of the students involved at a reception in Aberdeen’s Town House, the Lord Provost of Aberdeen Barney Crockett said: “This transatlantic exchange programme, which is supported by the Grampian-Houston Association and Houston-Grampian Association offers students a unique opportunity to learn from their peers across the ocean.

“It’s a great example of the educational, social and cultural benefits of having such is a great relationship with our sister city of Houston.”

Image (L to R): Kristin Jackson Brown, the Grampian-Houston Association’s Nursing Exchange Co-ordinator, Leslie Angela Rodriquez (Houston Baptist University); Laura Waters (Houston Baptist University); Lord Provost of Aberdeen Barney Crockett; Tara Tully (RGU); Helena Buley (RGU) and RGU School of Nursing and Midwifery lecturer Katie Baxter.