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Nurse fosters international exchange student program (8/13/97)

When exchange students visit other countries their education includes more than academics. They also learn how foreign families live, what they eat, how they think and feel and, if they are lucky, how very fortunate they are to be Americans and to have such a broad freedom of choice.

A San Antonio nurse believes health care students, especially, have more opportunities in this country than in any other.

"Americans have a vaster scientific database, up-to-date research facilities, more funds available for scholarships, and we are allowed to enter our chosen profession-even if tests prove we have no particular aptitude for that profession," says Bonnie Saucier, PhD, RN, associate dean in the Nursing School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. "Students in other countries are given competency tests at the secondary educational level to determine aptitude. No student fees or tuition are charged by the university, but entrance is restricted.

Theirs may be a more efficient way to teach but it certainly isn't democratic," Dr. Saucier continued. "If a student attending classes at the Health Science Center failed and then decided to study another profession, that option would be available. Foreign students don't have that choice; they know if they fail, they won't get another chance." Our country puts education in an entirely different perspective, according to Dr. Saucier. "We nurture our children," she said.

Dr. Saucier is a world traveler. For several years, first from California and now Texas, she has been coordinating lectureships and student exchanges, community activities and research collaboration for nursing students in foreign countries. She recently took her first official class, twelve undergraduates and one graduate student, to the University of Leeds in England to study the British heritage system in nursing. The elective course consisted of studying the practice of nursing in Great Britain and its educational system as well as clinical practice in community settings and hospitals.

"For two weeks these students were allowed to work directly with British nurses," Dr. Saucier said. "The British are in the process of changing their health care system, just as we are here at home. They do not have enough practitioners to provide the care needed. More managed care principles will be introduced and there will be rulings on the amount of money general practitioners can charge."

After a week in England, Dr. Saucier and the Health Science Center students traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland, to visit a hospice and other types of health care facilities. Members of the University of Leeds staff and faculty accompanied the group to Scotland. When they returned to England, they made trips to observe clinical settings at various British hospitals.

"The last weekend in Great Britain," Dr. Saucier said, "students had the opportunity to explore London for a day or two."

The globe-trotting nurse feels that students receive great richness from a global perspective. Most of the students who accompany Dr. Saucier to foreign countries have never before been outside the United States.

Last February Dr. Saucier and other faculty members traveled to Finland for the first International Conference for Research-Based Nursing Practice. Their second international conference will be held in San Antonio in 1999, with Dr. Saucier as chairperson.

Before leaving for England, Dr. Saucier had traveled to Singapore. Members of the Health Science Center nursing faculty hope to introduce a bachelor of science program in nursing to this island nation, and eventually to offer a master's degree.

"The Singaporians are interested from the governmental perspective in elevating the status of their nurses. The fell this can best be done by providing course work and clinical opportunities," Dr. Saucier said. "We would also offer foreign students an opportunity to study at the Health Science Center as part of our international student program."

Contracts are already in place for American students to visit clinical facilities in two locations in Mexico, and that country is asking for assistance in program development. Dr. Saucier is in the process of starting exchange programs with Mexico and hopes to eventually include Denmark, Finland, Norway, Scotland, Spain and Japan as international settings.

"The Finns are healthy, bright people, big on exercise and very much in tune with research connected to health problems. They have a healthy state of mind and, as a people, they are extremely active," Dr. Saucier said. "They also have eternal light in summer. It barely gets dusk between midnight and one o'clock in the morning, so they are on the go 24 hours a day."

The undergraduate program, headed by Dr. Saucier, is working collaboratively with the University of Utah, Northeastern University in Boston, and Washburn University in Kansas to submit a grant to continue student exchanges. If approved, this would be the first European union grant between universities in the United States and universities in Finland, Ireland and Portugal.

"We would, of course, have preliminary cultural workshops and language development classes. The grant would include administrative costs as well as stipends for students. Up to now, students have funded themselves," Dr. Saucier said. "The sometimes use grant money or consulting fees, but many have used their own personal funds. We provided the opportunity, but they found their own support."

Dr. Saucier's international activities have brought her many souvenirs which decorate her office at the Health Science Center. Costumed dolls =66rom several countries grace the book shelves and glass replicas of two species of Finnish birds are prominently displayed, as are rosewood elephants from China and wooden tulips in a crystal vase.

"It's symbolic of the Finns to give tulips to visitors as part of heir hospitality," Dr. Saucier explained. "Since I was traveling, they provided me with this lovely wooden bouquet. I also have a larger one in red that I keep at home."

Nurses hold the philosophical view that medicine should have easy access and be available to all. If Dr. Saucier has her way, nursing education will reflect that viewpoint, too.

Contact: Jan Elkins (210) 567-2570