Nursing Students Studying Abroad Through Unique IWU Program
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
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,”
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
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.