Living in a new country provides many challenges and a common one is navigating a foreign health system. Below Whatcom Community College Adviser Iris Anthony writes about how she collaborated with campus colleagues to create the Student Nurse Mentor Project in order to help mitigate this challenge. This project pairs Northwest Community College (NWCCI) students with nursing students, in order to assist NWCCI students in understanding the U.S. medical system and to give student nurse mentors an opportunity to develop cross cultural communication skills. This is also another way NWCCI students get to learn about U.S. culture and share their own cultures!
International students consistently struggle with understanding the complexities of the U.S. health care system and practicing daily wellness. The stress of living in a new culture, drastically altering one’s diet, high course loads, relationships problems, etc. can manifest into a wide variety of health issues. The United States medical and insurance systems are complicated and students need assistance filling out forms, calling doctors, and understanding their bills.
An overview of health, safety, and insurance is covered in orientation, but it is often difficult for the students to comprehend due to low English proficiency and lack of context. Additionally students benefit from extended education on basic nutrition, wellness, and self-care.
Whatcom Community College (WCC) hosts a two year nursing program, and a partnership with NWCCI seemed mutually beneficial. After a year of brainstorming, proposal writing, meetings with current nursing students and faculty, the Student Nurse Mentor Project (SNMP) was born.
Each quarter the student nurse mentors (SNM) lead a focused interactive workshop providing practical health tips around managing basic nutrition and cooking, stress and anxiety, and healthy living. Additionally, mentors were required to interact monthly with their mentees.
The SNM’s gained hands on cross-cultural experience and exercised culturally sensitive nursing practices while learning about global health systems and cultural differences. “The project provides a great opportunity for my students to participate in community health,” stated Angela Lochride, Nursing Faculty, WCC.
Second year nursing student, Liz Vidana comments on her experience, “I really appreciated the opportunity to use the knowledge I learned over the last two years to practice therapeutic communication, and the cross-cultural communication has been invaluable.”
The Community College Initiative students found mentors, friends, advisors, and confidants in their Student Nurse Mentors. SNM have helped students determine when to see a doctor, provided practical advice about ways to stay healthy, and even accompanied students to the hospital as needed.
Istyasmi Suminar, a CCI student from Indonesia described how her relationship with her nurse mentor benefited both her health and her experience in the United States, saying “The program benefits me in many ways. Based on my experience, being ill in the US is a difficult condition in relation to the cost and the process to get treatment. The nurse mentor program helped me maintain my physical and emotional health. When I don’t feel good, my nurse is the first person to call and she will give me advice. Moreover, having a nurse mentor is also a good way to have a meaningful relationship with an American; she is just like another friendship family to me.”
In addition to helping the student nurse mentors develop skills related to cross cultural communication, this partnership has also benefited the student nurse mentors professionally in other ways. SNMs presented about the project at the annual Nursing Students of Washington State Association conference, resulting in several nursing programs interested in mimicking our program. The SNMs also used the workshop materials as a foundation for their senior teaching projects as well as their main subject for the annual Campus Health Fair.
The NWCCI program is part of the Community College Initiative, an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.