Tech students immerse in foreign medicine

10 nursing students and few faculty went to Havana Cuba to learn about the way their health system works. This old ford van was their in-country transportation. (Photo provided by Dr. Mellissa Geist)

A group of 10 Tech nursing students broadened their horizons this summer working with patients in Havana, Cuba.


For many of the students, the trip represented the first experience in another country. For Dr. Melissa Geist, professor of nursing, it was her ninth trip to Cuba.


While in Havana for 10 days in May, Geist said the group of students completed 40 hours of coursework at Cuba’s National School of Public Health, also known as ENSAP; worked in the hospitals; conducted home health visit; toured primary care clinics called consultorios;and experienced Cuban culture.


“The World Health Organization actually recognizes Cuba as having one of the best systems in the world,” Geist said.


Knowing how Cuba’s system works helps students consider what would work in the United States, she said.


Geist said Tech’s nursing program is the only U.S. nursing program currently working with ENSAP to give the students hands-on experience.


Junior Irma Ramirez said the nurses they met used a teaching mindset that made the students excited to learn.


Cuba’s system is focused on preventative health care. In the consultorios, nurses keep track of each person in the neighborhood and are constantly assessing their patients’ health and illness status, Geist said.


“Just the way the citizens themselves view things differently than we do over here,” senior Chelsea Pickett said. “They are more preventative they want vaccines and over here sometimes I mean we struggle to convince parents to vaccinate their children it was just interesting to see that.”


Traveling to Cuba is the most difficult thing senior Madison Dunn said she has ever accomplished. By entering a country she knew “next to nothing” about it forced her out of her comfort zone.


Cary Cass, a graduate student and nursing lab coordinator, said it’s nice to see students broaden their horizons.


“I think it translates later when they are working with their patients or just working with someone who isn’t quite who they have encountered before,” Cass said. “I think it is a very powerful transformative experience that is just wonderful to see.”

The students are participating in a home health visit, Chelsea Pickett, a senior nursing student, is on the right in a green shirt talking with the patient.(Photo provided by Dr. Mellissa Geist)
Irma Ramirez, a junior nursing student, talking to a patient during her study abraod trip to Havana, Cuba. (Photo provided by Dr. Mellissa Geist)