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Bolivia Immersion Lets Maddie See Another Side of Healthcare

Posted by Marc Costanzo Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016

Maddie, a woman in her twenties with long blonde hair and wearing a red dressAt Nebraska Methodist College, it’s not enough for our students to just learn about healthcare. So that they get an experience that truly embraces the core tenets of our school’s philosophy, students immerse themselves in the healthcare field.

Often, that requires stepping outside one’s comfort zone and traveling to places far removed from healthcare in Nebraska and the United States. For students like Maddie, these moments turn into memories that last a lifetime.

Maddie recently wrapped up a clinical experience that took her to La Paz, Bolivia as part of the Immersion trip curriculum offered at NMC. Bolivia proved the perfect fit for her to learn about other cultures and understand the difference she can make whether here or thousands of miles away.

A Thirst for Adventure

Although nursing as a career is something that only recently landed on Maddie’s radar, her desire to help others was always there.

“I started doing mission trips when I was in middle school,” she said. “And I always loved going and doing things for people and I loved the community of it.”

“People say it all the time, you get more from giving than what the person actually receives,” she said.  “I always loved that. I went on a medical mission trip the summer before my sophomore year at Lincoln, we went to Belize for a week. I had my CNA at that point so I did blood pressures and blood sugars and stuff like that but it was really cool to see medicine and my volunteering experience come together.”

This would become her first inkling that nursing might be her calling. A competitive dancer for most of her life, Maddie stopped that activity upon entering college only to discover that she had more free time than she knew what to do with. That’s when nursing entered the picture as a possibility.

After a conversation with her father in which he encouraged her to pursue her dreams, she buckled down and worked hard in her remaining science classes, ultimately finding enjoyment even in courses that were exceedingly difficult.

Although she was accepted to Nebraska Methodist College nursing school, she put her education on hold for a few months to pursue a study-abroad program in Spain.

“I was so pumped up to go abroad and live somewhere else and be completely out of my comfort zone and not really know anyone I lived with at home.”

After arriving back in the U.S. with her Spanish skills sharpened over the course of months, Maddie was ready to start her nursing education with a minor in Spanish for Healthcare Professionals.


A downward shot of a Bolivia with mountains in the background.Having already traveled outside of the country many times, Maddie was a great fit for the weeks-long trip to Bolivia. While there, she shadowed a local doctor and participated in clinical rotations in places like Hospital de la Mujer, Hospital del Nino and El Alto Mariscal. But even her previous trips couldn’t prepare her for some of the culture shock she experienced in a healthcare setting very different from Methodist’s own state-of-the-art facilities.

“This semester I’m at the Women’s Hospital,” she said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever been out there, it’s a hotel, it’s beautiful, it’s so nice. Every woman gets this huge surgical suite.

“I watched a live birth while I was there [Bolivia] and there were no medications, no monitoring, when the woman first came in they’d put a strap over her tummy for the fetal heartrate and that was all. That was only at the beginning. The woman didn’t have fluids, they weren’t checking the woman’s heart rate, blood pressure or anything.

“And then you come here and it’s like every 15 to 30 minutes, you’re doing that, you’re documenting it and there’s all these medications. It’s way different.

“You know as an American you’re lucky and we’re privileged to be here, but unless you go somewhere and actually see it for yourself it goes beyond just being privileged, it’s the actual resources they don’t even have.”

It turns out that things we take for granted in America can be serious problems in Bolivia due to societal issues that medical professionals have little control over.

“The government won’t bring in medications,” she said. “They don’t have medication for chicken pox there, they don’t pay for it. Tamiflu, which gets used here all the time during flu season…there was a little girl when I was in pneumology and she was super sick and she wasn’t getting better.

“The doctor was like ‘Well, we need Tamiflu. And she was walking around [asking] ‘what’s the protocol, what symptoms does she have to have in order for her to get Tamiflu, in order for it to be covered by their insurance’ and no one could tell her the protocol. There was no protocol for Tamiflu because it was so expensive, it was so limited in order to get it, they just, they don’t get it.”

Still, not all was bad. Maddie believes that we can even learn a thing or two from healthcare culture in Bolivia.

“They don’t have the resources so they have to make do with what they have. So it was kinda nice to hear doctors prescribe certain teas to patients or apples and bananas or certain types of fruits and vegetables and stuff like that, whereas now here you go to the doctor, they’ll just write you a prescription.

“For someone who’s a doctor here, I think it’d be cool for them to go there and see they’re making due with that, maybe I could back off of these things or maybe I could spend a little more time teaching the patient.”

An Experience That Lasts A Lifetime

Whether or not Maddie embarks on another Immersion trip in the next couple semesters is still up in the air, but she already has plans to pursue travel nursing following her graduation in 2018.

It’s clear that she relishes the experience of trying new things. In fact, before she returned home, Maddie sought to commemorate her time in Bolivia with a memento that has special meaning: a tattoo that represents everything she loves about traveling.

“I started this whole spiel when I was in Spain actually, I journaled a lot while I was there, and in Bolivia too. You think you remember things but then it’s like, one day feels like two whole long years. I just had a lot of life events and I grew up a ton. When I was journaling, I was like ‘I don’t know if this is happening and it’s a good thing or if it’s a bad thing or if I’ll look back on it and say oh I shouldn’t have done that or I should have taken that jump even further.’Maddie's Tattoo Symbol, similar to arrow tips, one pointing upward and one pointing downward

“And so I would just draw this symbol when I was journaling. If I didn’t have the words for it, I would just draw that, and then looking back on it it’s either an up or a down or it’s a high or low and it’ll work itself out eventually. This has been with me for the past two years, so it’s kinda just a life symbol.”

That symbol now stands as a constant reminder of what she’s been through and where she will go. And we have no doubt it will continue to mark her exceptional journey long into the future.

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Topics: nurse education, community outreach, student spotlight

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