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The School of Nursing’s community outreach efforts this summer extended far beyond West Philadelphia.

In July, a team of eight Penn Nursing students traveled to Botswana to acquire clinical experience by conducting physical assessments and home visits in several villages.

Prior to their departure, the students raised over $20,000 in donations and medical supplies. The fundraising initiative “was something we decided to do ourselves,” according to Nursing graduate student Laura Anderson. “We figured we were going to a low-resource country to learn, and the most we could do was bring something with us.”

Contributions from donors enabled the team to purchase necessities like “gloves for physical examinations, stethoscopes and lab coats, tongue depressors and blood pressure cups,” recalled Nursing graduate student Don Payette, who spearheaded the fundraising campaign.

In addition to the villages they visited — which included Metsimotlhabe, Otse and Mmopane — the team also visited the Kalahari Desert and Gaborone, the national capital.

“We were really there to observe, but we went far beyond that,” said Payette. “We did physical examinations and diagnoses and made recommendations on how to treat.”

Working in pairs, the students visited local clinics one day a week and performed biweekly home visits. The remainder of each week was dedicated to assisting various charitable organizations, ranging from a hospice to an HIV support group to a church aiming to educate its congregation on health care.

During this period, the students also held a tutorial to teach parents how to treat minor injuries, and administered physical evaluations to children at an orphanage.

According to Payette, another group of Nursing students had visited the same orphanage last year and performed similar physical exams. By comparing this year’s physical results from those of the previous year, students were able to evaluate the children’s growth.

“Hopefully next year’s group will see the same group of kids and have another year’s worth of data,” Payette said.

While rewarding, the experience was not without its challenges.

“It took time to adjust to the culture,” said Blair Kraus, a Nursing senior. She also cited the “language barrier” as a setback the team was compelled to overcome.

However, all three students agreed that their experience in Botswana was invaluable, both personally and professionally.

“We had very little time there, but we made incredible connections with the people who lived there,” Anderson said. “We were invited into people’s homes without hesitation and people’s houses of worship.”

Kraus also emphasized the difference between addressing medical needs and helping a community.

“It’s not so much about getting meds or dealing with specific medical problems,” he said, “but providing care on an individual basis and evaluating what the whole community needs.”

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