I want to go everywhere.
Since I was a wee child, my parents were always ready to pack me and my sister into the car for a road trip. I grew up in a small town in southern Georgia, but we left as often as we could. My family caravanned up and down the east coast, once in a school bus that my mom bought (a long story). My dad drove me from Georgia to the Grand Canyon and back along historic highways, making sure to stop in musical meccas like New Orleans and Graceland along the way. I was a veteran car co-pilot by middle school, adept at navigating on the giant, paper atlases that dominated our dashboards. The GPS years did not come until my mom bought a new-fangled TomTom that always seemed to want to take the shortcut through a cotton field. Travel was a part of my life early on, but it was definitely limited to ground transport on four wheels - unless it was the school bus which had a lot more (again, long story).
Everything changed in Paris.
Just before I started at the University of Georgia, I got the opportunity to study abroad on a college program in Paris (France, not Texas) for 6 weeks in the summer. I became an instant Euro-nerd. The food, the art, the wine and the people had me enamored from the start. I started freshman year at UGA feigning extensive knowledge of the world. Posters of the Eiffel Tower covered my walls. I bemoaned the lack of Fanta Limon in our cafeteria. In short, I was an intolerable person to be around. My dorm roommate was a saint for not throwing me out the window.
I had the travel bug, BAD.
The following summer I returned to Europe but this time chose Madrid as my destination under the pretense of practicing my terribly accented Spanish that I was just starting to learn. Tapas, flamenco, siestas… it’s pretty hard not to love Spain. My Spanish got a little better. The travel addiction worse.
Over the next few years, I spent a lot of money on plane tickets.
A semester in Valencia, Spain was followed by a gap year in Monteverde, Costa Rica where I also backpacked from Panama to Mexico. Plus I met a boy who lived in Germany, which led to many transatlantic voyages validated by love. Then there was a volunteer trip to Peru for nursing school, followed by graduation which lead to a real job and a real paycheck. Then the flood gates were open. I have now been to Colombia, Thailand, Australia, Argentina, Hong Kong, Italy, Brazil, England, Cuba, Japan, Guatemala, Switzerland, Cambodia, Wales, Morocco, the Czech Republic and many more fantastic (and not so fantastic) destinations. The travel bills have been large, but out of it I got a husband (the boy who lived in Germany), a new language (Spanish), many new friends and memories, plus a global perspective that has made me more aware of myself and the world that I live in.
We get it. You’ve been a lot of places. What does this have to do with nursing?
Healthcare is as diverse as the world we live in. Our patients and colleagues come from everywhere. In my emergency department alone, we have at least a dozen nations represented by our staff at any given time. By experiencing more places and cultures, one becomes better able to navigate the individual needs of each of our patients and are able to work more cohesively with their care team. Culture drives so much on how we approach healthcare. Our personal perspectives, biases and opinions are all shaped by our own cultural experiences. When you put yourself in a foreign environment, you are forced to see things in another frame of reference. That may be the same frame of reference as your patient. If you can relate to their point of view, you will become a more effective healthcare provider.
Nursing varies globally.
Another thing that I like to do when I travel is find my way into healthcare facilities (hopefully not as a patient) or hear about the healthcare experiences of people from those new countries. I have been in hospitals, clinics, ambulances and local traditional healer’s homes. I LOVE seeing how other countries approach healing. The greatest experience, in my opinion, is to find the person called “nurse” and see who they are. Sometimes they are heavily educated practitioners who work with incredible autonomy. In other instances, nurses have very little training and work heavily in the homes instead of clinics or hospitals. Some cultures approach medical care similarly to the United States, with great beliefs in pharmacological and surgical treatments for ailments. In other places, traditional medicine is the standard with much more spiritual-based health practices. However, all of these providers may go by “nurse”. It is a powerful word with many definitions and meanings depending on where you are.
The experience of seeing all of these variations in the role of nurses and the structure of healthcare helps me better understand the expectations of my patients. Often our patients have just arrived in the United States and come to the emergency department with very specific ideas of what their care experience will be. Not only do I then have to treat the patient in the American medical approach, but also educate our patients on what their experience will actually be. I also have to meet their emotional and cultural needs to the best of my ability, using the resources that I have available. Those resources are often few and far between, so frequently the best available resource is me.
By traveling, my nursing practice has evolved.
I feel that I can provide much more holistic and culturally sensitive care as I often have a personal point of reference of where my patients are coming from. I just as frequently have no idea how the patients are feeling as I have never seen their home country or experienced their native traditions. This motivates me to continue to experience the world for myself, but also for my patients and colleagues. I am a better nurse with every new experience that I have.
So now I have to experience the world to be a good nurse? SUPER!
I am definitely not saying that one needs to visit every country in the world to be a good nurse. Some of the BEST nurses that I have ever worked with have never left the state where they were born. What I AM encouraging you to do is to take opportunities to experience other cultures and consider other perspectives. That can mean going out and trying a new cuisine. Food is such a strong part of cultures. Knowing the common dietary options from other countries can help you better determine what food recommendations to make for your uncontrolled diabetic from El Salvador. Maybe you could watch some international movies. Or go to a concert with music from another country. Read a book set in a foreign land. Even just talking to your colleagues who might be from other cultural backgrounds can help you expand your point of view.
There are so many ways of looking at the world. Challenge yourself to see things in a new way.
- Sarah @ New Thing Nurse