Tech nursing students gain healthcare experience in Cuba

Pictured with the certificates of completion from Cuba’s National School of Public Health, kneeling, from left, are nursing professor Melissa Geist, and students Cary Cass, Chelsea Pickett and Madison Dunn; and in the back, Natalie Stewart, Nicole Kirby, Hannah Loewenberg, Jordan Fitzgerald, ENSAP faculty members, Anthony Geist and Tanner Dunn.

COOKEVILLE –Eleven Tennessee Tech nursing students recently spent time in Cuba where they got a behind-the-scenes look at how that country’s healthcare system works.

“The World Health Organization recognizes Cuba’s healthcare system as having some of the best outcomes in the world,” said Melissa Geist, professor of nursing. 

Geist and the students, along with Marbin Pazos Revilla, a specialist in the college of engineering who grew up in Cuba, left for Havana on May 12 and returned May 21.

“Without the support of Dr. Pazos Revilla, these trips would not have been possible,” Geist said. “We’ve been to Cuba six or seven times and learned so much each time.”

While in Havana, the group completed 40 hours of coursework on nursing in the Cuban healthcare system with the faculty of Cuba’s National School of Public Health (ENSAP), toured a variety of facilities, participated in a house call and spoke to officials at the U.S. Embassy in Havana about Tech’s ongoing initiatives in Cuba.

“Currently, Tech’s nursing program is the only U.S.-based nursing program working with ENSAP,” Geist said. “It’s a good hands-on experience for students to get.”

This was Cary Cass’ second trip to Cuba. Cass, a master’s student and nursing lab coordinator from Cookeville, saw different care areas and learned a lot from the visit.

“They know how to move resources when needed,” Cass said. “They can mobilize people and supplies quickly without a lot of communication options. They have action plans set up and it’s very impressive with all those limitations.”

The staff at the local consultorios, neighborhood clinics, also keep track of each person in the neighborhood, constantly assessing their patients’ health and illness status, which was impressive to the students.

“They don’t have electronic health records like we have,” Cass noted. “When someone is admitted to the hospital, the whole team is there with the records.”

It was the first trip out of the country for senior nursing student Madison Dunn. Dunn, who is from Newport, Tenn., noted how everyone is focused on preventative medicine in the country with a population of around 11 million.

“I didn’t have any expectations and I had no idea what was going to happen, but my favorite part was the house call,” Dunn said. “I saw how well the doctors and nurses work together and have great relationships with their patients. That got me thinking about how important communication is, not only between the doctors and nurses, but with the patient as well.”

They were also allowed access to the National Institute for Cancer Research where they got to meet with the developer of a biologic medication to treat lung cancer that is currently being developed in the U.S. alongside Cuban researchers. They also were able to tour the Pediatric Oncology Unit and gave those children goodie bags with playing cards, bubbles, gum and other fun items.

“The students showed interest, respect and professionalism,” Geist said. “That goes a long way.”

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