Plenty of study abroad projects and programs benefit both participating students and their destinations, as was the case for Ugonna Ukwu ’23, a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) candidate who completed her field project in a teaching hospital in Nigeria.
“We are required to do a quality improvement project, taking evidence-based practice and applying it in a unique setting,” Ukwu explained.
Unsure of what direction she wanted to take, Ukwu delayed her quality improvement project until an advisor suggested she connect her project with her Nigerian heritage.
“I’m the firstborn on both sides of my family, and the first generation born in this country,” Ukwu explained. “I’ve always felt compelled to give back because my family sacrificed a lot for us to be raised here and to have opportunities here that a lot of my family in Nigeria doesn't have.”
In the field in Nigeria
Ukwu spent the summer of 2022 completing her fieldwork in a small teaching hospital in Nigeria.
“The hospital is well-resourced enough to provide inpatient and outpatient services. They do surgeries and physical therapy, dental care and pediatric care. For generalized care it’s comprehensive, but for acute care, intensive care and some higher-end diagnostics, the pieces are missing,” Ukwu shared.
When she arrived, hospital personnel asked her to evaluate their wound care procedures. Her observations led her to set a goal to reduce the occurrence of pressure ulcers — also known as bedsores — for patients who had been admitted to the hospital.
“I thought they were doing a great job with wound care already, so I thought the place where I could make an impact was in preventing those sores, which can be very costly to families.”
In the United States, if a patient develops a pressure ulcer during their time of admission, the hospital is generally considered liable and absorbs the cost of treatment. In Nigeria, families absorb the cost of pressure ulcer treatment — even if the family’s resources are already thin.
“Applying this quality improvement project, nursing students and nursing staff received training in theory and practicum. Then I observed them in their wards,” Ukwu explained. “In turn, they received certification, and I collected pre- and post-intervention data to determine if the training created a measurable and sustainable impact.”
Ukwu returned to Nigeria in October 2022 to monitor the progress of her project and the staying power of her recommendations and is currently analyzing the results.
Making it work
While Ukwu’s field work was a success, it might not have happened without the resources of the Shuford Center for International Education at LR and Brittany Marinelli, director of international education.
“I didn’t know how it was even going to happen. I told Brittany this vague idea when I went to talk to her in December 2021, but it was a game changer,” Ukwu shared.
Marinelli helped Ukwu secure her project in Nigeria through the Shuford Endowment at LR and the missionary teaching hospital in Nigeria, so Ukwu’s project became a reality.
“This allowed me to spend three months strictly as a volunteer, to do my field project, finance it and still have a house when I came back. I am so grateful.”
The Shuford Endowment encourages undergraduate and graduate students to use their time abroad to connect with their heritage and ancestry, supporting a diverse range of global experiences.
“Ugonna’s program in Nigeria is a wonderful example of how students can incorporate their personal, academic and professional goals into their international journey,” said Marinelli.
LR offers flexibility and resources to find or design the right program and secure the funding to make graduate study abroad an achievable goal.
“Ugonna’s story is a great example of how graduate students can go abroad for credit and with scholarships. We hope others will follow in her footsteps,” Marinelli shared.
Ukwu plans to continue doing medical mission and non-profit work abroad — in Nigeria or possibly elsewhere — after she completes her degree. She recommends work and study abroad as a way of creating more unity in the world.
“We live in an age where people are in these cocoons, so there’s a lot of misunderstanding and intolerance,” she shared. “That’s why it’s so important to go outside your comfort zone and connect to lived experience outside your norm.”