Nursing study abroad opens doors for BYU alumnae

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BYU nursing alumna Abby Anderson participates in the BYU nursing school’s public and global health study abroad. Anderson taught basic hygiene, wrapped wounds and performed health assessments on many children in India. (Photo courtesy of Abby Anderson)

Abby Anderson stepped off the plane into an unknown city where no one spoke English, where nothing looked familiar and there was no looking back. 

Although she was a stranger to this foreign country, she and other BYU students were greeted by hundreds of smiling faces at the Indian boarding school. 

As Anderson wrapped bleeding wounds, listened to beating hearts and taught basic hygiene, she left an impact on the children through her clinical service. But nothing was greater than the imprint the Indian children left on her heart. 

“(My time in India) was such an amazing experience and it opened my eyes to the world of pediatric medicine; that’s when I decided that’s what I wanted to do,” Anderson said. 

Anderson, like other BYU nursing students, participated in healthcare internships scattered throughout the world sponsored by the nursing program. 

According to the nursing school website, the purpose of the public and global health study abroad is to help students become culturally competent and assist in understanding how culture impacts the health of people, family and communities. 

The study abroad could not run for the last two years because of pandemic restrictions, and program coordinator Ryan Rasmussen said the decision to run the 2022 program has been postponed until further notice.

The nursing school website lists 11 sites for the nursing students to choose from, including the Czech Republic, Finland, Spain, Ecuador, Ghana, Taiwan, Fiji and India. Students who cannot attend internationally are assigned to sites scattered throughout the United States, working with veterans and vulnerable populations. 

Rasmussen said the students rank their sites from one through 11 and the program coordinators assign through randomization, attempting to place students within their top four choices.

“Each site is really unique in what you get to do and how you get to interact with everyone,” Rasmussen said.

Sondra Heaston, associate teaching professor in the College of Nusing, said the program typically runs three to four weeks. Students are immersed in the culture of different countries, working at various sites like hospitals, slum areas, boarding schools and others.

BYU nursing alumna Annelyse Caffrey went to the Czech Republic in 2019 for one of the study abroad experiences. She and other students took CPR mannequins with them to teach youth and young adults about CPR. The training helped individuals in the Czech Republic become CPR certified through the American Heart Association. 

“(The program) has been great for my career,” Caffrey said. She applied to various graduate programs around the country and said her experience with the BYU study abroad set her apart from other graduate applicants. In each graduate interview she attended, she was asked about the international program and her experience. 

Caffrey believes the public and global health study abroad helped her get into each graduate program she applied to and has helped open the doors for her dissertation studies in Belize.

BYU nursing alumna Abby Anderson changes the bandages of a man in India. Anderson, along with other BYU nursing students, put clinical skills into practice during a BYU nursing school study abroad. (Photo courtesy of Abby Anderson)

During Anderson’s study abroad to India in 2019, she and other students conducted basic health assessments in slum areas, boarding schools and communities with leprosy cases.

Anderson now works in foster care while she finishes up her pediatric nurse practitioner degree at Columbia University. She said she deals with a lot of the same cultural barriers she saw in India with different cultures now.

“People have such a great resilience, strength and happiness with so little, and witnessing that first hand opened my eyes to being grateful for what I have,” Anderson said about her international experience. 

Like Anderson, Heaston experienced gratitude and change as she went on a study abroad with the nursing students. “The connections you make in an international environment changes you from the person you were (before),” she said.

Heaston traveled with nursing students to Spain and Ecuador before the pandemic. She and other students help to educate local nurses with basic life skills and work side by side to train nurses in the community. 

She said the international experience BYU nursing students get helps them to become better nurses. “If students can look at everybody as an individual and learn how to be sensitive and culturally sensitive to people’s needs, then they will be better nurses.”

Heaston said she feels like a different person each time she comes back from a study abroad. 

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