BYU nursing students teach health in Ecuador


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Amanda Hales is easy to spot — a tall, blonde BYU nursing student among the dark-haired Ecuadorian girls. They follow her like ducklings who have found their mother as she answers questions about their changing bodies and their potential.

Before she gives them a final hug, she bursts out, “I just want to take a moment and tell you girls that you’re beautiful.”

Hales’ lessons on maturation in the Amazon were the newest part of the month-long BYU nursing study abroad in Ecuador. The 20 nursing students who spent May of 2015 in Ecuador learned about the cultural lens of healthcare through a study abroad program that first identifies needs, then finds culturally appropriate ways to fill them.

[vc_video title=”BYU student Anna Mocke shares the experience in Uganda that led her to study nursing. ” link=””]

Nursing Professor Stacie Hunsaker was proud of the nurses’ initiative, as this was the first time they had taught in these Amazonian schools and the first time they had tried to assess the health needs of preteen girls.

The BYU nursing students worked with needy Ecuadorians — primarily children — in the Amazon region of Tena. Although the Ecuadorian government is trying to improve healthcare, most who live in this area would not feel comfortable in a hospital, said Professor Janis Nuckolls, who has done anthropological research with Ecuadorians. The Ecuadorians in the Amazon have particular needs because they have lost their original ties to the land, but Western education is still a struggle.

BYU nursing students teamed up with Charity Anywhere, an NGO started by BYU graduate Gordon Carter. The Ecuador division of Charity Anywhere (it also operates in Mexico, Guatemala, Peru and Bolivia) is run by Dr. Washington Zambrano. Zambrano was baptized 28 years ago by Carter’s son. He said he spends 95 percent of his time working on projects for the NGO with no salary, and demand for his healthcare projects is growing.

“I have to pinch myself and say, ‘Wow, we’re doing that much good,'” Carter said.

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Each of the three schools the nursing students visited started the clinic with an official welcome, in which dignitaries gave solemn and grateful speeches, applauding BYU and Zambrano’s charity periodically. The BYU students were surprised when the principal of a public school for adults over 15 announced the schedule: teeth and vision screenings, healthcare by doctors working with Zambrano and classes on human sexuality and family planning. The nursing students were prepared with everything from diabetes to pre-natal care, but when they asked individual classes what health topics they needed information on, they found the principal had been right about the students’ needs.

Dean of Nursing Patricia Ravert said all nursing students spend a spring term practicing healthcare outside their comfort zone, but the Ecuador program is the oldest. Program directors return from the trip with a list of supplies needed for next year, and the alumni board works all year to gather them. The 21 students and three faculty members who went on the 2015 Ecuador trip took a 50-pound suitcase of medical supplies and a wheelchair. It alarmed airport officials in Salt Lake and Ecuador alike, but the supplies were used.

“We try to bring things that can be used,” Ravert said. “It’s purposeful; it’s planned.”

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Nursing Professor Sondra Heaston first went to Ecuador as a nurse practitioner in 2007; she has done so nearly every year since then and now directs the Ecuador program. She said she has seen BYU projects make positive changes in Ecuador’s healthcare over the years. The students also benefit, gaining an appreciation for how different healthcare systems make it work.

“They might use a milk jug full of water for a fractured leg, and we have these fancy-looking weights, but we’re doing the same thing,” Heaston said.

She said only half the 2015 BYU group spoke Spanish, but they were taking care of each other and loving the people.

Idaho native Katie-Anne Garrett had nothing but good to say about a trip that included tarantulas and humid heat. After a day of using puppets to teach dental hygiene and distributing anti-parasite pills, she was exuberant.

“I feel like every day I write in my journal, ‘It just got better,'” Garrett said.

Those interested in contributing to future projects like this can contact the BYU College of Nursing Alumni Board or visit

[vc_video title=”BYU nursing students aid public health efforts by the Ecuadorian government and distribute anti-parasite pills to children.” link=””]

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