Nursing students embark on service learning trip to the Navajo nation

File Under: Malone News

Not all classrooms have four walls. For Emmet Hole ‘25, Jade Mast ‘25, and Emilee Mills ‘25, spring break took them to the Tséhootsooí Medical Center in Fort Defiance, AZ, where they gained hands-on learning at the intersection of health and wellness within the culture and belief system of the Navajo people.

The students participated in observational clinicals in the inpatient units like the ICU, medical/surgical, the operating room, and obstetrics, as well as outpatient settings including family practice, pediatrics, and the emergency room. 

“This experience focused on learning about Navajo culture and how culture impacts ideas about health, wellness, and patient care,” said Jessica Swartz, assistant professor of nursing. “It was also a good opportunity to see the social and economic status of many of those in the Navajo community and how that leads to such glaring health disparities. We want our nursing students to experience how to serve patients in communities where resources are limited so they can optimize health and wellness as best as possible. We also teach our nurses that ‘wellness’ isn’t just physical, but is emotional and spiritual as well.” 

Although Malone’s connection to the Navajo nation is fairly new, it quickly impacted student learning with an understanding of cultural caretaking. Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, Navajo Nation gave students the opportunity to travel inside the country to serve while overseas travel was still limited. 

“In the early days after the worst of the pandemic, when we were beginning to do service learning trips again but preferring to remain stateside, we wanted to identify a location that would still provide a cultural experience for nursing students,” said Jack Harris, Ph.D., professor of business administration emeritus. “Professor of Nursing Lora Wyss remembered a student who, several years earlier, had set up a trip on her own to the Navajo Nations hospital in Fort Defiance, Arizona, so I contacted her and discussed the experience. It sounded like a good fit, so we began working with the hospital to arrange a student trip at the end of Christmas break. Eight students and two leaders made the first trip and we’re so glad to continue with this partnership.” 

Ever since, Malone students have benefited from hands-on learning with the Navajo people; it has been a fruitful experience that helps them better understand how to serve patients whose cultural practices affect their way of healthcare. It has also given them tangible opportunities to use their God-given talents and love for nursing to serve Christ’s Kingdom in communities far from the northeast Ohio hospital system. 

“Going on the service learning trip to Navajo Nation was an experience that I will never forget, “ said Hole. “Serving others in a culture that was unfamiliar to me will change and benefit the way that I practice nursing throughout the rest of my career. This service learning trip provided me with an opportunity that I will never get again in my life. Traveling across the country and seeing God’s creation, beauty, and breathtaking scenery was a bonus and something that will also stick in my memory. I’m so thankful that I went and will cherish the experience forever.”