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ECU health sciences students explore care in a global way


Thursday, October 25, 2012

A first-of-its-kind event united East Carolina University students on the health sciences campus to explore cultures, hidden misconceptions and their own beliefs.

On Oct. 25, about 240 students and 50 faculty members in allied health sciences, dental medicine, medicine and nursing watched the documentary "Crossing Borders," which follows four Moroccan students and four American students studying abroad in Spain as they travel for a week through Morocco. The students, strangers before their trip, learned about themselves and each other through candid conversations on politics, religion, poverty, conflict and education.

After the movie, ECU students divided into 25 smaller groups, facilitated by two faculty members from different colleges or schools, to discuss the film's themes in the context of their personal lives and their roles as health care providers.

"We're in an industry where it is essential that members of the health care team collaborate and coordinate, and respect each other," said Dr. Phyllis Horns, vice chancellor for health sciences and one of the sponsors of the event along with the ECU Office of Equity and Diversity, which provided support for faculty training.

In one discussion group, Dr. Mary Kirkpatrick, professor and international coordinator in the College of Nursing, asked students to describe borders they have crossed in their lives. Carpaccio Owens, a master's of public health student from Fort Bragg, said being in the military has given him a unique perspective. "You have to adapt," said Owens, who grew up in a military family and moved often.

A dental medicine student said he had lived in five states growing up as a result of his father's corporate moves, and he tried to fit in quickly at each new school. There may have been differences in accents or food, but most people were the same, he said.

Students in some discussion groups said they were impressed at how well the Moroccan students in the film spoke English. They said Americans tend to learn only English and maybe one other language for high school or college credit, but it's not unusual for other nationalities to learn several languages.

One student said she believed that every health care professional, especially in the South, needs to learn Spanish. "It's one of the biggest populations in our area," she said.

Dr. Harry Adams, clinical professor of medicine and facilitator, said he is taking a Spanish class now. He volunteers at the Grimesland clinic, where 95 percent of patients speak Spanish. "Even if you're not fluent, a little will go a long way in connecting with patients," he said.

Jacquelin Riggins, a senior nursing student from Wingate, said the event was enlightening and inspiring. "This was the first time I had ever met and had a discussion with students from other health care professions," Riggins said. "It was great being able to get a perspective from each profession, their view on patient care, and background in what they do."

She said she hoped similar events would be held again. "Just the hour discussion that I had today with other students opened my eyes and really helped me to realize the total circle that is involved in patient care," Riggins said.

Over the past five days, students met online in one of the largest online forums held at ECU to prepare for the face-to-face meetings in the Brody School of Medicine, said Dr. Donna Lake, chair of the planning committee and clinical assistant professor of nursing.

The idea for the event began several months ago when the College of Nursing's international advisory committee began brainstorming ways to educate students on cultural awareness and sensitivity and invited other disciplines to join. The global effort evolved to include inter-professional health care practice and teamwork, Lake said.

"Our students in today's academic settings must learn how to communicate with each other," Lake said. "If we expect quality improvement and teamwork in our hospitals and community health facilities, we need to be doing that here."

Faculty committee members were Robert Campbell from the College of Allied Health Sciences; Geralyn Crain and Alex White from the School of Dental Medicine; Todd Savitt, Harry Adams and Daniel Goldberg from the Brody School of Medicine; Jeanette Avery, Connie Dewees, Cheryl Elhammoumi, Laurie Evans and Donna Lake from the College of Nursing; and Jennifer Walker from Laupus Library.

The "Crossing Borders" movie has been seen by students worldwide. Director Arnd Wachter said the film is designed to empower youth by deepening intercultural empathy and initiating student dialogues. To learn more, visit http://crossingbordersfilm.org/ .