Student experiences in health care develops cultural understanding

September 3, 2015

Dr. Bethany A. Murray, RN to BSN Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor for the Indiana School of Nursing at IUPUC recently authored an article for the Journal of Nursing Education, September 2015 supplement. The title and topic of study is “Nursing Students’ Experiences of Health Care in Swaziland: Transformational Processes in Developing Cultural Understanding.”

Murray explains the intention of the study was an examination of the experiences of six nursing students following a service-learning experience in Swaziland, Africa. Students provided hands-on care in both hospital and community settings.

According to Murray the study examined the experiences of nursing students following a service-learning placement in Swaziland. Students worked in a hospital and implemented community health clinics. Six students were interviewed one month after their return from the overseas study experience. A thematic analysis was performed and four themes emerged.

  • The first theme was transitions—students experienced personal hardships, emotional reactions, and language difficulties that created discomfort.
  • The second theme was perceptions—cultural dissonance was encountered between the health care and nursing cultures of Swaziland and the United States.
  • The third theme was internalization—discomfort and cultural dissonance activated coping mechanisms within students that generated a process of change in attitudes and beliefs.
  • The fourth theme was incorporation—personal and professional growth, were demonstrated with greater awareness, compassion, resourcefulness, and comfort with diversity.

Following the program, the students were interviewed and the interviews were analyzed using narrative methods. The results of this study closely follow other research that has been published on the value of overseas study as a curricular tool in teaching nursing students’ cultural understanding explains Murray. Additionally, students went through stressful transitions, adapted to these stressors, and used internal coping strategies and personal strengths to accomplish a remarkable degree of personal and professional growth in a relatively short period of time.

Moreover, Murray shares that when students experience mild hardship and cultural dissonance, the experience activates coping strategies within students that enables change and promotes transformation. This transformative process led to greater cultural understanding as well as personal and professional growth. The stress and cultural dissonance experience also led to an increase in their cultural awareness.