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BYU nursing students learn diversity in Taiwan

Chinese culture and ancient medicine practices provided a rich background for eight Brigham Young University nursing students and faculty who recently visited Tainan, Taiwan.

Early in 2009, nursing faculty members and Taiwanese officials met formally to sign a contract that allows eight BYU nursing students each year for the next three years to earn clinical hours at the Chi Mei Medical Center. This is the first time hospital administrators have invited international nursing students to participate at the large, highly modernized hospital.

Reflective of the groundbreaking contract, news of the BYU students’ arrival appeared in the local newspapers and on television.

“We were frequently recognized as ‘the students from America,’ even when riding the subway,” said instructor James Kohl.

For five weeks, BYU nursing students, paired with local RNs, worked eight-hour shifts in the ER, ICU, hospice and pediatric units of the hospital.

Students noticed many elements of patient care in Taiwan that were different from methods used in the United States. It was surprising to see family members provide care while their relative was a patient, doing many things a nurse or other specialist would do in Western cultures.

The team dynamic was also impressive. Physicians and nurses consider themselves a social as well as a professional “family,” often mingling outside of the workplace, and collaborating closely on details of treatment and patient recovery.

It was impressive to see how clinicians combined modern medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture, cupping and guasha quickly became everyday words for the students, as did qi (pronounced chee), believed to be the body’s life-enabling, vital energy.

Rotating hospital assignments with community nursing provided additional insights into the culture, and the students once again learned the importance of the family as it relates to the patient’s well-being. Ten-hour workdays were common when making home visits, since local nurses spent time visiting and dining with the family as well as attending to the patient and teaching the family how to provide care.

“Teaching in the community is a huge part of the nursing responsibility,” said student Megan Robinson. “Things were explained thoroughly and thoughtfully so that the caregivers understood and felt comfortable with the information provided. Often in America teaching is not a top priority.”

“In the community, the nurse is seen as a family member. He or she is usually invited to join family celebrations and even spend holidays with the family,” said Kohl. “Our students experienced the ‘family’ everywhere in this hospitable, open and accepting culture.”

In their spare time students volunteered at a local orphanage, playing with the children, bottle feeding babies and offering love and support. Witnessing the adoption of three of the children was an especially meaningful part of the experience.

“We learned from our Taiwanese counterparts,” said Kohl. “But we also shared the way things are done in the United States. We have collaborative research in place that will be ongoing over the next three years.”

Katie Powers said of her visit to Chi Mei Medical Center, “They are less confined to a Western thought process and way of solving medical problems. They frequently incorporate emotion, patient stress, and qi into diagnoses and treatment. I have learned that there is a lot more to medicine than just medications and operations. The nurses in Taiwan have been instrumental in demonstrating to me what it means to treat and teach with your whole heart.”

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