Dominican Republic trip will make lasting impact on students

A number of Georgian College health and wellness students will have the opportunity of a lifetime this spring to help provide care and health education to those in dire need in the Dominican Republic. Two separate groups, one a mix from the Practical Nursing and Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs, and the other a mix of both nursing and dental hygiene students, along with nursing and dental hygiene faculty, will travel to two rural areas, Consuelo and San Jose De Ocoa.

These trips, which Georgian has organized since 2000, have a huge emotional and professional impact on the students. The trips also broaden their cultural awareness and understanding of the implications of poverty on health. Hundreds of Georgian students have participated in the experience over the years and benefited from the opportunity.

“This trip is an incredible opportunity for students to expand their knowledge and beliefs, outside of our westernized thinking and day-to-day lives,” said Katherine Coes, a second-year practical nursing student. “As a society, I think it’s important to recognize there’s a cultural and economic difference between places, even here in Canada When we begin to recognize this, we can help make changes and become us, instead of me or you.”

While she was humbled to have the opportunity to help people at Ocoa, Coes added she was also excited about the prospect of making real, raw connections with the people there.

The Georgian group travels each year in partnership with Rayjon Share Care, a registered non-profit organization located in Sarnia.

Interprofessional care is given to the residents in rural communities in several ways: community clinics, working alongside nurses and doctors at the local hospital, home visits, visits to long-term care homes and visits to an orphanage. Students provide overall health assessments, wound care, respiratory care, musculoskeletal care, pain and parasite medication and more. They also visit local schools and provide much-needed supplies and education to children.

The number of people seen by the students is staggering. In the first two weeks of the San Jose de Ocoa trip last year, close to 2,000 people received care.

“Each year we develop a very close connection to the people in these communities – from residents and families who live on the bateys (sugar cane plantations) to the local health care providers,” said Susan Vodarek-deCean, one of the nursing faculty travelling with the Consuelo group. “They are so grateful to have us there when we visit and they really make us feel like we are part of their community.”

Each student and faculty member personally covers the cost of the trip and is responsible for fundraising and collecting needed supplies such as medications, vitamins, eyeglasses, sunglasses, wound care supplies, dental supplies, school supplies and more.

“We’re fundraising with a goal of $30,000 in mind,” said Megan Grinnell, a second-year practical nursing student. “While this might seem steep, it would allow our Dominican Republic patients to have year-round care until the next time Georgian travels there in 2019.”

To date, fundraising efforts have included bake sales and a GoFundMe page.

Donations of supplies from the community are also welcome. If you are interested in making a donation, please contact Alicia Sedgwick or Susan Vodarek.

Photo: Second-year Georgian College practical nursing students Megan Grinnell (left) and Katherine Coes, along with other Georgian students and staff, will be travelling to the Dominican Republic in April and May to provide care and health education to those in dire need.

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