Dr. Patricia Mattingly, associate professor of nursing, brings RN to BSN degree students to Cabarete, Dominican Republic each year for a cultural exchange experience.
Until the 1970s Cabarete was a sleepy fishing town. The wind blew constantly on the North Coast and when surfers found it, Cabarete quickly became the wind surfing capital of the world.
Tourism came. Hotels and restaurants popped up, pushing the local population from the beach into the swampland. Here, they have no running water and no electricity. During the rainy season, their one-room shacks flood and dirt floors turn to mud.
Dr. Mattingly and her students wanted to make a difference in the lives of the locals, and they did so in innovative ways. “I remember a nurse using the vibration from her iPhone to stimulate a fetal movement,” shares Raechel Dick. “The mother had not felt the baby move yet and was concerned for its life. Nurses can impact a life even before it’s born.”
The team also ran daily workshops and gave away hundreds of hygiene products. In exchange, the local families gave them a lesson on native plants that they use for healing.
The nursing students educated girls as young as four on HIV and AIDS. Most girls knew someone in their family or their neighborhood with the diseases. In order to learn more about what type of health care is available to local families, the students toured an HIV clinic and a public hospital in Puerto Plata.
It was like “turning the clock back 30 years,” says Lisa Makarick, a maternal service nurse and mother of five. The intensive care unit only had five beds with bare mattresses. Family members were responsible for providing the linens as well as food for patients. There were no latex gloves. There was no hand sanitizer. “It was a shock,” says Dr. Mattingly, “the students couldn’t believe how lucky they were.”
According to Dr. Mattingly, students travel to Cabarete with service in mind thinking, “I’m going to help and make a difference.” However, they leave saying “’I got much more than I gave. I thought I was going to help these people but they helped me expand myself.’ It’s a beautiful moment.”
After returning home, the students reflect on the meaning of the experience as they pull together their reflection presentations.
“The common thread the students see is humanity, and it’s a win-win experience for our students,” Dr. Mattingly says. “They bring something, show something, mentor, and act as role models. They take away incredible meaning from the trip. They come back humble and grateful. In some small way, I think that’s what it takes to make the world a better place, one person at a time.”