Nursing Students Studying Abroad Through Unique IWU Program

Nursing Students Studying Abroad
Illinois Wesleyan nursing students pose at Tibidabo,
a mountain overlooking Barcelona.

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Seven Illinois Wesleyan University nursing majors are participating in a rare opportunity – the chance to spend a semester abroad while still fulfilling their nursing program requirements.

With the help of state-of-the-art technology, the students are studying this semester in Barcelona through the IWU Spain Program.

Semester-long study abroad programs in nursing are rare, according to Vickie Folse,  Caroline F. Rupert Endowed Chair of Nursing and director of the School of Nursing, because required coursework in nursing must be taken in sequence and Illinois state law requires nursing students be supervised in clinical settings by a master’s-prepared registered nurse licensed in Illinois. Thus, study abroad options for nursing majors are often limited to short trips or summer timeframes.

Illinois Wesleyan’s School of Nursing faculty deliberately selected study abroad to occur in the sophomore year, when clinical coursework requires far fewer hours than those of upperclassmen and is more easily arranged outside of the United States. Through the IWU Spain Program, the Barcelona nursing students substitute observational clinical experiences for the direct patient care performed by students in Bloomington. After they return to Illinois Wesleyan, the Barcelona students spend May Term working with patients to meet their course requirements for delivering direct patient care in a clinical setting, Folse said.

Comparing hospital settings in Barcelona to the United States, two previous study abroad students noticed some institutional differences. “There is much less bureaucracy here,” said David Allen, who observed at Centre Integral de Salut, a public hospital. Student Gisel Lopez agreed, noting the “relaxed ambiance” at Quirón, a private hospital, which served as her clinical setting.

Both students said adjusting to a new way of learning was challenging. Their required courses – Nursing Foundations II and Pathophysiology and Pharmacology II – are delivered through a live video stream from Stevenson Hall on Illinois Wesleyan’s campus. The seven Barcelona students interacted with the instructor and their peers in Bloomington, allowing for synchronous learning.

“It was a challenge at first focusing only on the screen because I am more of the type to learn better in the classroom,” said Lopez. “But I adjusted and it brought the seven of us nursing majors together because we used each other for help.”

IWU’s Spain Program features elements designed to introduce students to the “real Barcelona.” Students use public transportation to explore neighborhoods off the normal tourist path – part of the program’s goal of an immersive experience in Spanish language and culture.

Conversing with locals was relatively easy, the two IWU students said. “Outside of the hospital, I rarely encounter Catalan (one of three official languages of Catalonia),” said Allen. “I understand Spanish reasonably well, so I understand the majority of what people explain to me.”

Lopez said people in Barcelona mostly speak castellano, the term for the Spanish language used in Spain. “I haven’t had much trouble conversing with others, but it has been interesting to pick up words in Catalan here and there,” she said.

Those Spanish-language skills are expected to remain in demand in the United States. By 2030, it’s predicted one in five Americans will be Hispanic. Folse said the School of Nursing’s interest in teaming up with the IWU Spain Program was in response to the increased need for Spanish-speaking and culturally competent nurses. Illinois Wesleyan offers a Hispanic Studies minor for nursing majors. 

A semester-long immersion program forces students to engage in a multicultural setting, Folse said. All IWU Spain students live with host families in Barcelona and participate in excursions throughout the city and in neighboring areas that are designed to develop their self-sufficiency.

The first students participating in the Barcelona program described their experiences as “life-transforming, both with regard to their enhanced cultural sensitivity as future nurses and as global citizens,” said Folse.    

Contact: Kim Hill, (309) 556-3960