February 16, 2017

GW Nursing students and faculty provide health care to patients in Haiti through a unique partnership with Sae-A, a South Korean-based global apparel manufacturer, Pusan National University in South Korea and local Haitian nurses. Once a year, Sae-A sponsors a trip to the Caracol Industrial Park, site of one of its manufacturing plants. 

GW Nursing teams comprised of students and faculty work with an interprofessional team of physicians, social workers, pharmacists and nurses from Pusan National University in providing care to patients on site at Caracol Industrial Park.

These trips are open to both graduate and undergraduate students, with graduate students fulfilling clinical hours and BSN students earning their community hours.

The international teams care for up to 500 patients a day over the course of a week, despite language barriers and differences in the roles of health care professionals in the United States and South Korea. 

“One of the biggest differences was that there are no nurse practitioners (NPs) in South Korea, so initially the South Korean physicians were unsure of this role as NPs work independently, diagnose and prescribe. But, after seeing level of competency of our NPs, the physicians very much appreciated the NPs’ ability to work independently,” says Dr. Carol Lang, associate director of global initiatives for GW Nursing.

The GW Nursing team spoke with patients and physicians through translators.  During the mission, three languages were consistently involved: English, Korean, and multiple dialects of Creole. At times, four languages were involved: English, Korean, Creole and Spanish, as some people who were from the Dominican Republic (which borders Haiti) and living in the Caracol area were also treated. 

“The highlight of our first trip was when we realized that by the end of the week our two teams became one. We ended the week with great mutual respect and understanding only possible with the generous spirit of those involved,” says Dr. Joyce Pulcini, director of community and global initiatives for GW Nursing.

“There was a gratitude you would see from people that doesn’t happen here and I’m probably guilty of that when I go to the doctor too. If you have insurance here, health care is just a right and we treat it as such. There, little old ladies came up and gave us hugs and kisses. Those were the moments I realized I was doing a good thing,” says Taylor Wilson-Hill, an Accelerated BSN student who joined a Haiti trip.

In an effort to make a lasting impact, GW Nursing medical missions to Haiti include an educational component. All patients go through education stations, which include nursing student-created videos in Creole that address a range of topics, including: hypertension, hand sanitation, rehydration, cholera, STIs, and pregnancy complications. Also, every adult man and woman received education about gender-based violence. 

GW Nursing is committed to maintaining a presence in Haiti, as part of efforts to improve the health of its people and communities. These medical missions also provide invaluable service learning experiences for our students.