Barcelona Program Allows Nurses to Finally Venture Abroad

By Jackie Connelly

(From The Argus , Jan. 27, 2012)

This year, five students are going where no Illinois Wesleyan University nursing major has gone before. Sophomores Jenny Boll, Erin Levy, Amanda Magallon, Cassie Mellen and Hannah Smith just kicked off their spring semester in Barcelona, Spain—an option that, prior to 2012, was never available to IWU’s future nurses. While it may be tempting in light of the situation’s lack of precedent, “we’re not calling them guinea pigs,” said Vickie Folse, associate professor and director of the School of Nursing. “We’re calling them pioneers.”

A unique opportunity

Barcelona

Sophomores Amanda Magallon, Hannah Smith, Cassie Mellen, Erin Levy and Jenny Boll pose in front of the Mediterranean Sea on the first day of a scenic tour.

Previous study abroad programs for nursing majors, restricted to either May Term or summer timeframes, fulfilled general education or elective requirements. But they did not offer continued immersion in the nursing sequence. “When choosing IWU, I knew there was not a chance for me to spend a whole semester abroad,” Magallon said. “I was fine with that. I had accepted it.” But recently, the School of Nursing revised its curriculum and teamed up with IWU’s Spain Program to develop, for the first time, “the wonderful opportunity to stay in the nursing sequence while studying abroad,” Folse said.  “I am sure it is the only program in Illinois—and possibly the entire U.S.—that allows nursing students to continue their major classes while living abroad,” said Carolyn Nadeau, Byron S. Tucci professor of Hispanic studies and this year’s Spain Program director.

Past study abroad options for nursing majors have been limited due to the School of Nursing’s emphasis on clinical experiences. According to Folse, state law requires direct patient care by students to be supervised by a nurse with at least a master’s degree.To meet these standards, the School of Nursing deliberately chose to accommodate study abroad into second-year coursework, where the time commitment to clinical involves far fewer hours than upperclassmen’s and is more easily replicated abroad. “In Barcelona, the students are getting real observational experiences in their clinical experiences, as well as the opportunity to speak to patients and families in Catalan,” Folse said. Though students will substitute observational clinical experiences in Barcelona for the direct patient care performed by sophomore nursing majors on campus, the program requires them to return at the end of the semester and spend May Term working with patients.  “This means the nursing students who study with the Barcelona program are actually getting additional patient contact,” Folse said. 

Attending class…in Stevenson Hall

To ensure program participants don’t miss a beat in their required sophomore nursing courses, professors Carolyn Jarvis and Susan Swanlund are utilizing state-of-the-art Polycom technology to connect to them through a live video stream of classes taught on IWU’s campus. “Polycom is the product of a grant to fund synchronous learning,” said Folse, who explained the professors have altered their schedules to accommodate the seven-hour time difference and avoid conflicts with potential weekend excursions. “This isn’t just online learning,” Folse said. “Polycom allows the students abroad in Barcelona to be actively engaged in the classroom here on campus, and it also allows IWU students to live vicariously through their classmates’ cultural immersion.”  Between their clinical experiences, Polycom classes, a general education course taught by Nadeau and one elective, “each student has a class schedule similar to what a sophomore nursing major on campus would have,” Folse said.

Reaping the benefits

According to both Folse and Nadeau, the already significant need for Spanish-speaking nurses in the United States will continue to grow exponentially in years to come. Because clinical experiences in Barcelona will force students to engage in a bilingual, multicultural setting, the program “is a fantastic way for nurses to immerse themselves in Hispanic culture, speak Spanish all day every day and really improve on their language and cultural skills,” Nadeau said. While the students have mixed feelings about how they will handle clinical in a different country, they look forward to gaining this useful expertise.  “Having such a diverse background will make me a unique addition to any health care team because of my extensive knowledge of different health care systems,” Smith said. “It will be amazing to utilize Spanish in the workforce,” Magallon agreed. “The real challenge will be interacting with actual patients in a different language and country. It’s exciting, but terrifying.”

Working out the kinks

Of course, all pioneers are bound to encounter a few roadblocks. Between technical difficulties with the Polycom system and contrasting resource availability, adjusting to culture shock has been no walk in the park.  “I never thought I would miss The Ames Library, but I do,” Magallon said “I was so used to having all my professors and classmates always available,” Smith added. “We no longer have that luxury. But by posting lecture slides to Moodle, administering exams in the classroom rather than online and making tutors available via Skype and email, the nursing faculty is doing all it can to make the transition from Bloomington to Barcelona a smooth one. “Every challenge is surmountable,” Folse said. “We’re really attempting to create for them the same resources they would normally have here on campus.” In the meantime, Boll, Levy, Magallon, Mellen and Smith plan to take advantage of every opportunity the program has to offer. “I wanted to study abroad to experience a different culture in a non-vacation setting,” Levy said. “But it has been tough trying to focus on studying while exploring a new city. We don't want to miss out on anything.”And whatever the downsides, “the five of us are going through it together,” Magallon said.That pervasive sense of comradeship between School of Nursing students, faculty and alumni suggests that at the end of the day, any struggle will be well worth the trailblazing adventure. “I'm elated to have this opportunity,” Smith said. “I know how many former IWU nursing students would have loved being able to do this.”