UW-Green Bay Nursing students got the practicum experience of a lifetime this summer, working hands-on with the marginalized Roma people of Slovakia. Traveling with Associate Prof. Janet Reilly, Nursing, and Prof. Sarah Meredith Livingston, Music and Women’s and Gender Studies, the students spent their days caring for and educating the occupants of five Roma settlements scattered throughout the Eastern European country. They worked with residents who had little to no access to health care, dealing with issues ranging from Tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases to labor and delivery, tobacco cessation, child development and mental health.
“In all of the camps, the nurses did some health visits,” Reilly said. “People would come outside and they would ask about their blood pressure, their swollen legs, growth and development of their kids, parenting, polio, TB. … I, in my 30 years of nursing, have not seen such young polio patients.” Meredith Livingston added, “It was kind of shocking to everyone, I think,” she said. “I don’t think most people expected that level of (poverty). And the fact that many of them didn’t have water — they had to walk a mile and a half to get water every day.”
Still, the students began to adjust — and to get to work. In addition to working hands-on to address residents’ health concerns, they did group teaching with health mediators — a group of specially trained Roma citizens whose purpose is to address concerns and help raise the standard of health in each community. The group also visited the Auschwitz concentration camp, where half a million Roma were killed during the Holocaust. And they saw firsthand how discrimination against the group persists today.
Dr. Reilly plans to take another group of students to Slovakia in two years.