Study Abroad Program Takes VSU Nursing Students to Nicaragua

July 26, 2012

Jessica Pope
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator

Study Abroad Program Takes VSU Nursing Students to Nicaragua


VALDOSTA -- Valdosta State University will send 12 students and an instructor to Nicaragua for a 10-day field study in transcultural care. The study abroad excursion will be a first for the College of Nursing and was made possible when one University System of Georgia institution of higher learning reached out to another.

Troy Spicer, a faculty member at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences in Tifton, took a group of students to Nicaragua during the summer of 2011. One year later, he approached VSU’s College of Nursing about joining the experience.

“I am always interested in finding ways to cooperate with other schools in order to offer opportunities to more students,” said the registered nurse and board certified family nurse practitioner who has facilitated study abroad programs for roughly 14 years, since his days at Kennesaw State University in North Georgia.

Spicer, who has seven students leaving for Nicaragua on Saturday, July 28, said that a partnership with VSU made perfect sense.

“A lot of the faculty at ABAC actually graduated from VSU,” he added. “There are a lot of warm feelings there.”

Denise Atkinson, a board certified family nurse practitioner and nursing instructor, will lead VSU’s group to Nicaragua. Spicer referred to her as an ideal person for the role because she serves the Latino population as a medical professional and has the unique ability to excite students about cultural experiences.

“This is what I have always wanted to do,” said the Thomasville native and daughter of Joe and Mary Fallin. “Everything just came together. ABAC contacted [VSU College of Nursing] Dean [Anita] Hufft about the partnership, and she asked me if I was interested. I’ve always wanted to do something like this. I hope to do it every year and expand to other regions of the world once we get some experience under our belt.”

As part of the field study in transcultural care, VSU and ABAC students will visit Lake Nicaragua, Esteli, the Masaya Volcano, and Historic Granada. Atkinson said they will examine available resources in the country, as well as the ability of the native people to promote their own sustainability. They will look at agriculture and first response systems like fire, law enforcement, and emergency medical services.

The students will have a chance to visit Casa Materna, which provides a short-term residence to high-risk pregnancy women, one to two weeks before and after childbirth, and other outreach services. Casa Materna’s focus is on reducing rising maternal and infant mortality rates. In Nicaragua, a maternal death occurs every 38 hours.

“The women come out of the mountains and stay at the maternity house, where they receive food and education and support,” Atkinson said. “They are close to medical attention, not hours or days away.”

While at Casa Materna, the students will learn about and plant Moringa trees -- also known as miracle trees or vitamin trees. Atkinson said the tree is often used to fight malnutrition, especially among infants and nursing mothers. Its leaves can be eaten fresh, cooked, or stored as a dried powder for months without refrigeration or a loss of nutritional value. According to Optima of Africa Ltd., a private company that deals with the tree in Tanzania, 25 grams of Moringa leaf powder will meet 125 percent of a child’s daily calcium needs, 61 percent of his or her magnesium needs, 71 percent of his or her iron needs, 42 percent of his or her protein needs, and more. Almost every part of the tree can be used for food or some other beneficial purpose.

“There is a lot of value to folk medicine,” said Atkinson, adding that the students will have a chance to visit a plantation, of sorts, where the locals grow medicinal plants and other crops to both generate revenue and address their own nutritional needs.

The students will also visit what may best be described as a dumpsite. Atkinson said it is where the people go and collect “trash” -- pieces of tin, cardboard, and paper -- to use to build homes for themselves and their families.

“Nicaragua is considered one of the safest countries in the Americas, according to the United Nations and the United States State Department,” Spicer said. “It is also widely reported to be the second poorest country in the Americas -- North America, Central America, and South America. The only country poorer is Haiti.”

Atkinson said she hopes her students are inspired by what they learn, hear, see, and do in Nicaragua. She hopes they return with a broader sense of who they are in this ever-changing world and a better understanding of how a different culture lives and survives.

Half of her group has never been outside the U.S.

In the future, Akinson noted that the field study in transcultural care will be open to students from any major and particularly beneficial for those in Spanish, sociology, psychology, business, and women’s and gender studies.

Among the students from ABAC participating in the field study are nursing majors and rural studies majors.

Contact Denise Atkinson, VSU College of Nursing instructor, at (229) 245-3776 or at; VSU’s Center for International Programs at (229) 333-7410; or Troy Spicer, ABAC School of Nursing and Health Sciences instructor, at to learn more.

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