Nursing abroad becomes reality for BSN students

Students gain clinical experience in the health care system in Ireland

March 21, 2019
Steve Rudolph

Riley Tousignant walking on a path on the top of a mountain

As soon as Megan Cavanaugh, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing student, heard about the opportunity to study at the University of Limerick for a semester and gain clinical experiences in the Irish health care system, she knew she wanted to apply.

Ultimately, Cavanaugh was one of 10 students participating in the School of Nursing’s first-ever semester abroad opportunity for BSN students. Based on the feedback she and her classmates have provided, countless more nursing students will be following a similar path.

Making the impossible possible

Senior Executive Associate Dean for Academic Programs Christine Mueller, PhD, RN, FGSA, FAAN, knew students were increasingly seeking international experiences, yet she also knew that only a summer program was possible if students wanted to meet their graduation requirements in four years. The nature of nursing curricula, which includes purposefully-sequenced courses and clinical practicums, typically doesn’t afford the flexibility a student needs to experience a semester away from campus and still graduate as planned.

That thinking began to change when the University’s Learning Abroad Center received a grant opportunity that made the international experience a reality.

“I was new as associate dean, but I knew our BSN program well enough that for it to work it would have to be in the fall semester of senior year, so we just started from there on a plan to figure it out,” said Mueller.

To solve the greatest challenge – replacing 180 hours of practicum the students would experience if they stayed in Minnesota with a comparable experience in Ireland – the school partnered with the University of Limerick. In addition, the two schools worked together to create a new course for Minnesota students in Ireland to meet a specific requirement, ensuring School of Nursing students in Ireland would stay current with their classmates at home.

Students appreciative of opportunities in Ireland

Megan Cavanaugh
Megan Cavanaugh, participated in the school’s first-ever semester abroad opportunity for BSN students, in Ireland.

For Cavanaugh, her classmate Riley Tousignant and other classmates, the semester in Limerick offered an opportunity to not only learn about nursing in another country, but learn about themselves.

“The similarities came across mostly in the practicum in that nursing at its core is about caring for someone,” said Tousignant. “The nurses do the same thing that we do here, but how that care is carried out, like with paper charts, is the difference. The public versus private health care comes out in nursing ratios and in the services they are able to offer to patients.”

Both students spoke fondly of the relationships they formed with students from other countries and the bond that formed among the Minnesota students. And both rank the semester abroad as the highlight of their University experience and know the lessons learned will have lifelong impact.

“It was something that encouraged me to go outside my comfort zone,” said Cavanaugh. “I’m really grateful for it because it helped me gain confidence in myself and grow new skills.”

For Tousignant, the experience helped her become more reflective and develop personal skills she believes she will use throughout her nursing career. “I’m coming back more full than I anticipated; full of knowledge and full of love for my relationships that I grew and the people I got to know. I wish I could thank everyone responsible for this opportunity. It changed my life.”

School exploring additional opportunities

Mueller praises the University of Limerick and the University of Minnesota’s Study Abroad Center, with the leadership of Dean Meredith McQuaid, for making the unthinkable become a reality. She says the program will be offered again this fall and the school is exploring options to expand it as well as pursuing other partner universities.

Mueller and Clinical Associate Professor Carol Flaten, DNP, RN, PHN, director of pre-licensure programs, were recognized with the 2018 C. Eugene Allen Award for Innovative International Initiatives by the University of Minnesota’s Global Programs & Strategy Alliance. In describing their efforts, the GPS Alliance wrote, “This initiative within the School of Nursing is another example of the University of Minnesota setting a trend for others to emulate.”

Categories: Education