Practical nursing students from Okanagan College, along with their teacher, Lisa Matthews (right), flew out of Kelowna International Airport Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. They are travelling to Thailand to put their skills to use in two villages. (Lisa Matthews)

Okanagan College nursing students to make history in Thailand

Students to take on Vernon-born practicum overseas

Ten practical nursing students from Okanagan College packed their medical bags and took off to Thailand Thursday morning for two weeks to put their classroom skills to use. Not only is this the first time the college has done something like this, but it’s also a Canadian first for a diploma program, department chair and professor Lisa Matthews said.

The idea for the journey spawned from a casual conversation about health promotion in the Vernon classroom. A Thai student named Thanadol Prasertsung told his classmates about his village in Thailand. He mentioned how beneficial the health-care skills they learned in the classroom would be back in the place he called home only five years ago.

Matthews did a quick temperature check of the class and many seemed interested in pursuing the idea. This was in December 2018.

Since then, the class has worked tirelessly to plan events, fundraise money, apply for grants and more to turn Prasertsung’s idea into a reality. And after student-run bottle drives, barn dances and community barbecues, it’s happening.

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“These trips are typical in bachelor of science programs in university,” Matthews said. “But it hasn’t been done in a practical nursing program in Canada.”

The reason, Matthews said, is likely due to the shorter length of the program and potential financial barriers.

This opportunity was easy for Matthews to get behind, she said because she could see that Prasertsung’s idea came from a “genuine place.”

“His vision was real,” she said. “Sometimes, I feel when you’re that connected to whatever project you’re going to do — regardless of whether or not it was a first in Canada — his passion made it easy and students could engage with it.”

“It was a good thing to do. It’s the right thing to do,” she said. “That allowed us to carry over the hurdles.”

Although Matthews said she was excited to learn this would be a record-setting trip, she was more excited about what this type of trip will offer her students in terms of learning and life experience.

The students and Matthews flew out of the Kelowna International Airport on Oct. 17, and are expected to arrive at their destination Saturday around noon. In the northeastern province of Maha Sarakham, the practical nursing students will work in two villages. Prasertsung made arrangements with the local university who jumped at the opportunity to facilitate the travellers. Matthews said the host university offered to provide interpreters and take care of all of the logistics.

For many, Matthews said, this trip to Thailand will be the first time out of the country—for some, it will even be the first time out of the Okanagan.

Working in a country where they don’t speak the language or know too much about the culture will reflect the ever-changing demographics in Canadian health-care facilities, Matthews said.

“Canada has an increasing number of people who come from outside of Canada with English as a second language from Asia, the Middle East, or war-torn areas and they have their own unique set of health needs,” Matthews said. “To have an immersive practice allows them to be the person who doesn’t speak English.”

“It allows them to be the person from away and that’s powerful.”

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Caitlin.clow@vernonmorningstar.com

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