NSU nursing faculty and students make educational trip to Cuba

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Participants in an educational trip to Cuba from Northwestern State University were, front from left, Dr. Billy Morales, Lakesha Thomas, Rosaline Caldwell, center from left, Dr. Bea Launius and Kelly Crawford, back row from left, Dr. Katheryn Arterberry and Dr. Pamela Simmons.

Katheryn Arterberry decided to take one of her classes to a new level this summer. Arterberry, an associate professor of nursing at Northwestern State University, was part of a group of NSU students, faculty and administrators who completed a five-day educational trip to Cuba earlier this week.

The idea for the trip began in Arterberry’s Global Healthcare Advocacy and Transformation course about a year ago.

“Rather than simply talking about the differences and challenges in different health systems around the world, I wanted to give the students a chance to experience it in a hands on way,” said Arterberry.

In addition to Arterberry, participants were NSU faculty Kelly Crawford, Dr. Bea Launius and Senior Director of Nursing Dr. Pamela B. Simmons. Also taking part were Doctor of Nursing Practice graduate Dr. Billy Morales, Executive Vice President for University and Business Affairs Marcus Jones, Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Director of the School of Creative and Performing Arts Dr. Greg Handel, current DNP students Rosaline Caldwell of Shreveport and Lakesha Thomas of Baton Rouge, and undergraduate student Francisco Ballestas Sayas of Cartegena, Colombia.

Support for the trip was provided by the Coughlin-Saunders Endowed Professorship held by Arterberry and the Ann Splon Coughlin Endowed Professorship for Nursing and Allied Health held by Simmons.

“The experience served to reinforce and illuminate the objectives for the course,” said Arterberry. “One of the standout experiences was the visit to the polyclinic and discussions with the nursing leaders there and seeing the focus on prevention. All of us came away humbled and grateful for what we have and appreciative of the Cuban health professionals’ ability to do what they do with much less.”

Thomas called the trip to the polyclinic “a humbling experience” and said the tour and discussion with the Cuban nurses provided the group with an in depth look at Cuba’s healthcare system and structure.

“When I first walked into the polyclinic, it reminded me of Earl K. Long,” (the state hospital in Baton Rouge, which closed in 2014) said Thomas, a family nurse practitioner with Our Lady of the Lake Sickle Cell Clinic and supervisor of utilization management for AmeriHealth Caritas. “There was no air conditioning except in the room they used as an ICU.”

Thomas said the nurses discussed education for nurses and physicians, prevention initiatives, health statistics and treatment protocols which provided an opportunity to compare and contrast the U.S. healthcare model versus the Cuban model.

Caldwell said the level of collaboration between doctors and nurses was one thing that stood out for her.

“The nurses and doctors work together as a team to prevent disease and manage care,” said Caldwell, a pediatric surgery nurse practitioner for Willis Knighton Physician Network’s Pediatric Surgical Associates. “The doctors do not have the advanced technology that we have in the United States, so they rely on clinical judgment to diagnose and treat patients. I have a new appreciation for preventative care and cost-effectiveness. Cuba is known for preventative medicine and they make it work with limited resources.”

Those participating were able to expand their worldview by spending time in a different culture.

“The trip was an excellent way to help students and faculty see that we are not the world, that while people are people and deal with many of the same issues, there are many issues we have no real exposure to or have any understanding of what it means,” said Simmons. “We were privileged to see a beautiful island with beautiful people living in old but beautiful buildings, but living in circumstances of poverty and heat and pollution that one could only imagine in one’s wildest imagination. I believe the greatest and best outcome was that participants could see a different world view, while just a thin slice of it, still a much different view than the one shared before the visit.”

The group had a number of opportunities to talk with Cuban citizens. A highlight was visiting local music venues. Sayas, a music major, was able to perform with a local salsa band.

“Being able to be there allowed us to see a bigger picture of the health disparities and problems experienced by the people such as pollution from the 1950 era taxis, to food deserts and poverty while also experiencing the joy of the people. It was awesome,” said Arterberry. “The students and faculty alike reported an increased urgency in being a change agent and a leader in their own communities. This is the best result this experience could have generated.”

Thomas says the trip will make her a more effective family nurse practitioner.

“This experience will nudge me to sharpen my physical assessment skills as Cuba does not have all of the technology that we have. The nurses and physicians have to rely on their assessments to make certain diagnosis, which keeps their skills sharp,” she said.

Arterberry hopes this experience will serve as a foundation for future trips.