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What can US nursing students learn from the UK health system?

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American students from Loyola University in Chicago have been given a unique opportunity to experience the UK health system

If it’s true that experience is the best teacher, several American students from Loyola University Chicago’s School of Nursing are receiving an education that is second to none.

As participants in a study abroad programme in Surrey, they have an opportunity to learn about community care in the UK over the course of several weeks. The non-compulsory programme, which is self-funded by the students, has been running for more than 20 years.

“It has long been my dream to travel abroad but as a nursing student it was never quite plausible until the England programme,” said programme participant Audrey B. “When I heard about it, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. Beyond the fact that it would allow me to see a piece of the world, it would also enhance my nursing practice by exposing me to other healthcare perspectives.”

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Staff Nurse Ruth Whiting introduces students to the ward

When it first began, the programme was open only to qualified nurses as a comparison of different healthcare systems. According to programme director Karen Egenes, nurse colleagues in the NHS suggested the focus of the programme change to students instead.

“Our colleagues thought this would be the ideal time to present to students the idea that in a “developed” country, there are a variety of ways in which healthcare can be delivered and financed,” Karen said.

Through the programme, students are able to see and experience the differences between healthcare abroad and interact directly with patients through home visits.

“Despite differences in healthcare between countries, the students have found many qualities of nursing to be universal”

Karen enjoys speaking with nursing graduates who participated in the England programme during their time as students. “Some have said, ‘This programme changed my life because it gave me a world view of nursing.”

“Participants seem most affected by the experience of the universal accessibility to healthcare in the UK. Students who have participated in the programme seem to be more politically active in working for change in the US healthcare system,” Karen said.

Some of their most memorable experiences of the programme were when participants undertook patient visits.

“My most influential moments occurred during patient care,” said student Jill G. “I was honoured to meet a lovely 99 year old woman who was still full of life and vibrancy.”

“Another woman was a carer for her husband in addition to dealing with her own ailments. We had a wonderful time sharing our common appreciation for elephants and talking about her extensive collection. She even offered me an elephant to take home at the end. These are moments I will cherish for a long time,” she said.

Despite differences in healthcare between countries, the students have found many qualities of nursing to be universal.


Ruth Whiting demonstrates the ward’s feedback system

“Nurses everywhere believe in caring for the patient and providing quality care to the patient,” said Jill G. “These are two very important qualities and standards for the nursing profession that a good nurse anywhere in the world will possess.”

Several students echoed the idea that this international experience has changed them individually and will change the way they nurse in the future. “As I graduate and begin my nursing career, this experience will stay with me as I enter the world of patient care and advocacy,” said Jill G.

“Through this experience I have learned that healthcare has not been perfected yet and each system has the potential for improvement,” she said.


Group of nursing students from Loyola with staff from Virgin Care’s community hospitals


Rachel Stanback is an intern at Nursing Times

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