Don’t believe the myths - nursing majors CAN (and should!) study abroad during their undergraduate or graduate courses. As global health issues are increasingly challenging societies, there is a greater need for increased communication between nurses from around the world about creative health care solutions.
There is an increasing number of study abroad programs that cater specifically to future nurses. These study abroad opportunities are uniquely tailored for Nursing students who want to live abroad and learn more about health care simultaneously. Courses focus on clinicals in host countries, examining cultural, political, and economic forces influencing health care systems, reviewing health disparities, comparative studies of nursing licensure and practice in other countries, and generally getting an outsider’s perspective of the health care system in the US.
The good news is, nursing is one of the most secure jobs in terms of future job prospects - if you do take the time off to study abroad and potentially delay graduation for an extra semester, it's highly likely there will still be ample job opportunities for you once you graduate. In fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that more than one million new nurses will be needed by 2018. In some instances, a study abroad experience may even help you secure a job.
I think that my experience living in Mexico and speaking Spanish may have given me an edge - being open to other cultures can be beneficial for hospitals as well.
It is important to know how spending a semester abroad will impact your rigorous academic schedule. Students are urged to explore their full range of options for study abroad and should begin to consider study abroad during their freshman year. Early planning allows time to investigate possibilities and plan rosters efficiently.
- While researching programs, students should consider whether or not a program offers coursework that will allow them to progress in their major requirements towards a 4 year completion of degree.
- Check which semesters are most suitable to take a break from your nursing course schedule. Which semester will be determined by program requirements, the host university's requirements, and personal preference.
- Summer programs are a good option for students who cannot fully commit to a semester abroad - also a great way of catching up on classes or studying abroad with a program whose courses do not necessarily fulfill any major-related requirements.
Whether you prefer to do a nursing-oriented study abroad program or not, there is likely to be a program out there that your stethoscope would find makes your heart skip a beat - follow that flutter!
What do the nurses have to say? Here are some real life testimonies from nurses who have studied abroad for semesters, summers, or not at all.
Studied abroad in Nicaragua
"I studied abroad because I think understanding other cultures is essential for human interaction - especially as a nurse. In order to treat someone for an ailment, it helps to be familiar with their culture, as people from different places express their feelings, particularly pain, in different ways. By going abroad and opening your self to other ways of thinking and living, you can return to the US as a nurse and really connect with a diversity of patients. To me it seems, so simple, and so necessary, to want to immerse myself in other cultures in order to have better human interactions."
Crystal Lake, IL
Studied abroad in Germany
"I think I changed as a person while being abroad... The confident and open minded person I am today has helped me succeed in getting the job of my dreams. I have a much deeper respect for all cultures and in my job as an ER nurse, I definitely feel more confident when interacting with people from all over the world."
Studied abroad in Mexico
"When I spoke to my nursing adviser about studying abroad, I realized that there were only 2 options for nursing students at my university (as we had no choice but to study abroad during the spring semester of sophomore year). Being a culturally sensitive nurse is important. Having the experience of being in another culture can make you more understanding of how overwhelming it can be to be in a new situation, which is how most patients feel when they are in a hospital."
Grand Rapids, MI
Studied abroad in Germany
"I came in freshman year knowing I wanted to be a nurse and knowing I wanted to study abroad. That helped me out a lot and made me able to plan the next 4 years easier. I took junior level classes my first year and saved all of my general education classes for my semester abroad... It was worth the summer classes to have that experience for your whole life."
Studied abroad in Thailand
"Without studying abroad, I would not be the strong-willed woman I am today. That being said, it absolutely helped me obtain the job I now have (pediatric nurse). Interacting with many different types of people is a day-to-day part of my job. Having the ability to be culturally confident and appreciating every person or families differences was initiated and reiterated every day while studying abroad. Looking back, I could have not asked for a better experience to help shape me into the woman and nurse I am today."
Did not study abroad.
"My biggest (and only) regret about college was that I didn't find a way to study abroad. As a nursing major it isn't always easy, but looking back, it would have been totally worth it."
Of the nurses who did study abroad, one thing was certain - all were confident that their experience not only defined their college education, but ultimately enriched their ability to fulfill their vocation in an even more positive way. Exploring new cultures challenged them to be even better nurses, and their experiences continue even today in their everyday interactions in the work place.
Ready? Explore study abroad programs.Photos courtesy of Anna Urish.