November 25, 2002
UWB nursing students study abroad via Internet-World events put annual overseas trip on hold
Bronwyn Wilson/staff photo
Dr. Carol Leppa
by Bronwyn Wilson
Senior Staff Writer
Take two suitcases and fly to London in the morning. That's the prescription a group of students at the University of Washington, Bothell (UWB) happily followed until last year. As an elective part of an ethics class, UWB nursing students were offered a unique opportunity to travel abroad. Associate Professor Dr. Carol J. Leppa teaches the course on ethical dilemmas in nursing practice and has taught the class since the nursing program began 10 years ago. Beginning in 1996, she added a class option: an 11-day trip to London that allowed her students a chance to study England's healthcare system firsthand.
The trip quickly became a popular feature among the students. From that year on, a group of UWB students (usually about 15 to 20) flew to London between the winter and spring quarter. Once there, they met with the British nursing students enrolled at Southbank University where they discussed, as well as compared, the healthcare systems in the U.S. and the U.K. Together, they learned from each other, examining cultural similarities and differences as well as comparing the ethical, moral and financial aspects associated with their country's healthcare system. Through conversations and deliberations, they began to understand the political process behind the systems as well as the cultural challenges.
In 1999, Leppa introduced a courseware program that enabled her to link her students—via the Internet—with the students in the U.K. "Then we would get together online," Leppa says. Before ever hearing the sound of each other's foreign-sounding accents, many of the students developed friendships in cyber space prior to the annual trip abroad.
This afforded the students a sense of familiarity. When they arrived in the UK, they greeted British friends instead of strangers in a foreign land.
"It's very exciting," says Leppa of the U.K. learning experience, which includes visits to historic sites.
Then, after 9-11, last year's class trip was called off. Leppa explains that the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon affected her nursing students desire to travel.
"Last year, I had to cancel (the trip) after 9-11," she says. "No one wanted to fly." She adds that her students will forgo this year's trip also due to the talk of war in Iraq.
"Trips will resume in March 2004," she confirms. But the setbacks didn't stop last year's students from enjoying the excitement of learning from British nursing students or making friendships. And setbacks won't stop them this year.
The students will hold electronic discussions over the Internet with their British counterparts. The students, on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, will explore one another's preconceived notions about health care.
"It gets the students talking outside their expectations," says Leppa. "American students tend to believe that a national health service would solve problems. British students believe nursing in the U.S. is all acute care. They believe that if they are very sick, they won't be able to see anyone if they can't pay."
Students benefit from their interactive communications, whether online or in person, because it gets them to think beyond what they've seen. Leppa explains, "Both systems are trying to help people who are sick and they come at it at very different perspectives."
She says that the U.K. has an open healthcare system with more attention to community-based care and visiting nurses.
When her students resume the overseas trip, Leppa says they'll resume visits to a hospice, which began in England. In addition, her students will spend a day observing palliative care, a form of care that focuses on symptom control for the terminally ill.
Dr. Leppa, voted 2001 Nurse of the Year by the King County Nurses Association, says there's a current shortage of nurses as more students opt to go into fields other than nursing, such as science or technology-based careers. According to an article published in The Business Review, September 2002, one million more nurses will be needed nationwide to satisfy demand in the next 10 years. As the contemporary population of practicing nurses draws closer to retirement age (the average age of a nurse currently stands at 43), the younger generation can look toward a wide-open field of choices in a nursing career. "There are lots of employment opportunities in nursing," says Leppa. When asked if nursing continues to attract more women than men, she responds, "I think so. We run about 10% male students [in the nursing program] here."
Since 1992, UWB has graduated over 700 nursing students from the undergraduate program.
"We have a new Master's program that started this fall," Leppa mentions. Twenty-nine students entered the Master's program and Leppa plans to bring some of her master students into the international portion of her ethics class.
For further information on the UWB Nursing program, call (425) 352-5000.