Ohio State University nursing student visits Nicaragua

by Stephanie FellensteinPhotos special to Hudson Monthly Published:

Most nursing students probably don't consider Nicaragua when looking for educational opportunites, but for Jennifer Lawson, it was the perfect fit.

"There was just something about Nicaragua," she says, adding there were a few different travel opportunities through the College of Nursing at Ohio State University. "It is something I'll never forget."

The beginning of college

The 2009 Hudson High grad did not plan to become a nurse when she first started college.

"I didn't know right away what I wanted to study," she says, adding she first thought about early childhood education. "Then I found nursing and wanted to give it a try. It turned out to be a good decision."

Since then, her life has been filled with nursing classes and work.

"We usually study one specialty at a time," she says.

This fall, Lawson will study community nursing for the first seven weeks and then pysch nursing, which focuses on mental health, for the second seven weeks.

"I'll be precepting in the spring," she says, which means she will shadow one nurse each day. "I need to get a certain number of hours of one-on-one time."

But before precepting, Lawson decided to see how other countries handle health care. She and 14 other nursing students, plus an instructor headed to Managua, Nicaragua for almost two weeks at the beginning of May.

Her mom, Kim, admits she was shocked to find out Jennifer picked Nicaragua.

"She has traveled on family vacations to U.S. territories, but this was way beyond her travel experience," Kim says. "However, when she explained the trip and why she chose it, I was proud of her for making that choice."

Kim says Jennifer wanted her trip to be something that would help her grow and be valuable to her career.

"She did not choose a program based on the country," she says. "She chose it based on the experience."

Lawson's schedule in Nicaragua was packed with activity. Each day had a different focus -- hospitals, clinics, outreach programs and even some sightseeing.

"The first day we heard about the history of Nicaragua," she says. "That was very important to help us understand the culture."

One of the most eye-opening experiences was a visit to a public hospital, Lawson says.

"There are public and private hospitals there," she says. "The public hospitals have less funding and see more people. People have to pay for the private hospitals. They are very nice, but most people can't afford it.

"The public hospital is so sad. Patients were separated by illness. All cardiac patients were in one room. There were 60 patients for every two nurses."

Lawson says if patients couldn't afford something, like sheets, or if families didn't supply it, the patient wouldn't have it.

"There were patients in beds with no sheets," she says. "They told us all about the patients and what was wrong with them. That would be a huge HEPA violation here. It really makes you realize how lucky we are for the health care we have here."

Lawson did say the children were separated from the adults and were then further separated according to need.

One of Lawson's favorite parts of the trip was a visit to Nica Hope, an outreach program that teaches children useful skills.

Many residents live and work at La Chureca, the Managua city dump, she says.

"They rummage in the garbage for things they can recycle or use," Lawson says. "Kids 6 or 7 years old are doing this instead of going to school. They can get a $1 a day from whatever they can find."

She says Nica Hope was organized to try to get kids to go to school during the day. After school they come to Nica Hope to learn how to make things like jewelry and ornaments that they can later sell.

"About 150 kids came through while we were there and we got to serve them lunch," Lawson says. "They make jewelry from a lot of recyclable stuff like pop cans. I bought some bracelets."

Lawson says it was hard to pick a favorite experience, but she also enjoyed visiting Casa Materna which helps women with high-risk pregnancies.

"They go there for the last two weeks of their pregnacy," she says, adding teen-age pregnancy is a big epidemic in Nicaragua.

"High risk could be a 13-year-old or a 50-year old, plus any high risks like we have here," she says.

Casa Materna is located five minutes from the hospital which helps those high-risk patients who live in rural communities hours away.

"They also get an education while they're there -- how to take care of the baby," Lawson says. "We got to talk with some of the moms. No one spoke English. We used a translator and I got really good at charades."

While in Nicaragua, the nursing students also visited a women's center that deals with all types of health care issues -- cervical and uterine cancer, family violence, prostitution, self-esteem workshops and HIV/AIDS.

Despite the non-stop schedule, there was some downtime during the trip. Lawson says they took a driving tour of Managua, swam in a volcanic lake and visited Masaya Volcano National Park.

Kim says she was very impressed with the program Ohio State offered.

"I felt confident that Ohio State had put together a safe experience and had prepared Jennifer well for what she would encounter," she says.

"Jeff [Jennifer's dad] and I were excited to see Jennifer embrace this opportunity and we are thrilled that she had such a wonderful experience."

Back at home

Lawson spent the summer in Columbus working as a nurse's aid at the OSU Medical Center.

"I love it. It's a really good experience," she says.

"We have five or six patients we're in charge of. I take vitals, do blood draws and check blood sugar levels. Since it is a rehab area, they don't have lunch in their rooms. We take them to lunch in another area to get them walking."

Lawson says it has been especially good to learn how to take care of a bunch patients at once.

"We don't get that part in school," she says.

With her senior year on the horizon, Lawson is not sure what she wants to do after graduation.

Right now she is interested in working in labor and delivery.

"That's hard to get, but that's what I'm leaning toward right now," she says.

While she would like to eventually go to grad school at Ohio State, Lawson first plans to work for awhile.

"I like Columbus. I might stay here," she says. Plus her sister Michelle, who is starting her junior year at OSU as a pyschology major, is close by.

Or maybe she will head back to Nicaragua.v

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