In a remote African homestead built of concrete blocks and metal siding, CSUSM nursing student Kerry Jauregui learned to improvise as she cleaned a patient’s burn-wounds, using saline to substitute for the lack of available clean water and a fresh cotton shirt to serve as a bandage.

Each spring, senior-level nursing students, like Jauregui, are invited to serve abroad and travel more than 10,000 miles to the South African nations of Swaziland, Lesotho, and Botswana to provide patient care for communities severely impacted by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. During the 18-day service trip, students experience the challenges and rewards of delivering health care in rural environments with scarce resources.

“In these countries there are few doctors, so patient care falls on the shoulders of nurses,” explained Dr. Denise Boren, interim director for the School of Nursing.

In Swaziland, there are less than 200 physicians to serve the nation’s more than 1.2 million people. The 6,000 square-mile nation, which is only slightly bigger than San Diego County, has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world, with 35 percent of its adult population infected, and the lowest life expectancy rate at 37 years old. 

Since the program’s inception, the School of Nursing has hosted five trips for nursing students to serve in Africa. While abroad, students work alongside Cal State San Marcos faculty and area nurses, providing patient care in community clinics and making home health and hospice visits. Focused on improving the quality of life for those facing serious illness, the students provide what is known as palliative care, which emphasizes management of pain and symptoms, as well as educates patients on preventing further transmission of diseases.

“Because of the lack of resources, education is really the key to preventing the spread of disease,” said Jauregui, who participated in the service abroad program during her final semester in 2010. Today, the CSUSM alumna works for Children’s Hospital in Orange County.

In the African clinics and rural homesteads, students learn to adapt and care for patients without relying on cutting-edge medical equipment and sometimes even without the most basic of amenities, such as clean water. Teams also pitch in to assist with other humanitarian health efforts. In 2010 while a team of students and faculty were serving in Lesotho, the country experienced a measles outbreak. The ten-member Cal State San Marcos group helped administer immunizations to more than 500 children.

In addition to providing patient care services, groups bring donated medical supplies and over-the-counter medicines to help stock the shelves at the clinics, which typically have little inventory due to the high demand. The teams also bring supplies to host community health workshops. At one workshop, students taught local children the importance of good oral health and provided each child with a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss.

For the more than 35 nursing students who have served abroad through the School of Nursing’s international community health program, the experience is eye-opening and transformational.

“Serving abroad is the most fulfilling experience I’ve ever had,” said Jauregui. “Because of my nursing education,

I was able to give back in a capacity that really made a powerful difference in people’s lives and health. Without a doubt, the experience has made me a better nurse and a more connected global citizen.”

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Since the program’s inception, the School of Nursing has hosted five trips for nursing students to serve in Africa. While abroad, students work alongside Cal State San Marcos faculty and area nurses, providing patient care in community clinics and making home health and hospice visits.