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ODU Nursing and Physical Therapy Students Partner with Physicians for Peace to Help At-Risk Mothers at Home and Abroad

Picture from ODU nursing outreach trip to the Dominican RepublicODU Nursing and PT students wrapped up the week of training by presenting the Madres Tutelares with certificates of program completion. The week’s education included, assessment of vital signs, rehydration therapy, STDs, infant motor milestones, and lower back pain. Photo of ODU nursing students and faculty in Dominican RepublicLeft to right: Resource Mother, Escania Guzman Mercado, ODU student, Kelly Matteson, and ODU professor, Dr. Gail Grisetti, practice assessing blood pressure and heart rate during the week long training. Increased blood pressure is an early warning sign during pregnancy that could indicate complications like; hypertension and preeclampsia, both can be harmful to the mother and baby if not treated properly.

For most students, spring break conjures up thoughts of relaxing somewhere warm in tropical breezes, far from schoolwork, perhaps on a Caribbean vacation. But, for seven nursing students and two physical therapy students from Old Dominion University, a work-free spring break took a back seat to teach Resource Mothers, also known as Madres Tutelares, perinatal health education in the Dominican Republic. Resource Mothers was created by Physicians for Peace in the Dominican Republic based on the need to mentor at-risk teenage mothers to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy, delivery and first year of a child's life.

The nursing students offered instruction on perinatal topics such as signs and symptoms of infant dehydration and awareness of sexually transmitted diseases. Hands-on-training included reinforcement of vital sign assessment. This training and education helps Resource Mothers assist their clients in seeking medical attention and preventing more serious complications. The physical therapy students focused on teaching the importance of recognizing infant motor milestones, as well as ways to reduce musculoskeletal pain during pregnancy.

"I saw this trip as a way to gain a different perspective from what I've been learning in nursing school, " said Marcella Kennedy, an ODU nursing student who graduates in August 2013. "I've learned that the problems I've seen in my clinical experiences are international problems as well."

To gain a better understanding of the women's daily struggles and living conditions, the students interviewed Spanish-speaking Resource Mothers and their teenage clients. During the week- long trip, students had the opportunity to accompany Resource Mothers as they worked with clients in their local neighborhoods. Students also toured the maternal child regional hospital, Los Minas Maternity Hospital, and the Dominican Association for Rehabilitation facility.

"Access to healthcare is a significant problem for young women of the lower socioeconomic classes in Santo Domingo," said Janice Hawkins, Chief Academic Advisor for ODU School of Nursing, and chaperone on the yearly trip. "Nursing students who go on this trip gain a new understanding of the limited healthcare services in the Dominican Republic compared to our own in the U.S."

The multidisciplinary spring break international outreach coordinated in collaboration with Physicians for Peace is now in its second year, and includes physical therapy and nursing students, as well as faculty from both specialties. Interestingly, two students on the trip are also involved in the Norfolk based Resource Mothers program where they work with low-income teenage mothers through their community health class. Kennedy is one of these students who had the opportunity to bridge her clinical work locally with the recent study abroad trip.

"It was so interesting to meet the Resource Mothers internationally after having worked with women with similar problems in my own backyard," Kennedy said. "In particular, teenage girls in both countries have problems with transportation to doctors' appointments and affording diapers. The two groups aren't as different as I imagined," Kennedy said.

Infant mortality rates are high in the Dominican Republic at 21.3 deaths per 1000 live births in 2012, compared to 6 deaths per 1000 live births in the United States, according to the Central Intelligence Agency. Dr. Ramon Lopez, Director of Physicians for Peace Latin Americas, said this is due, in part, to high teenage pregnancy rates. "Many of these girls have not graduated from high school," Lopez said. "This is why the Madres Tutelares are so important. They provide education and motivate these girls toward economic independence. We give hope of a better life," Dr. Lopez said of the Madres Tutelares. "We motivate these girls to want a better life for themselves and their babies."

History of the Resource Mothers

The Norfolk-based Resource Mothers, headquartered in Park Place Community Center, is a state funded program started in 1997 to identify low-income pregnant teens and provide them with perinatal care, including transportation to doctors' appointments, support groups and education.

Dr. Edward Karotkin, a neonatologist at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters and a leader at Norfolk-based Physicians for Peace (PFP), worked with the Resource Mothers and saw a similar need for perinatal education in the Dominican Republic. He subsequently launched a sister program named Madres Tutelares (Resource Mothers in Spanish) in 2005. Since then, the Physicians for Peace-run initiative has 20 resource mothers under employment, providing vital education and resources to hundreds of teenage mothers in the poorest neighborhoods of Santo Domingo.

About Physicians for Peace

Physicians for Peace transforms lives by training, supporting and empowering healthcare professionals working with the world's underserved populations. Since 1989, International Medical Educators have conducted medical missions in more than 60 countries. Find us online at www.physiciansforpeace.org and www.facebook.com/physiciansforpeace. Follow us on Twitter, Physician4Peace.

Old Dominion University College of Health Sciences

The College of Health Sciences at Old Dominion University (ODU) prepares health professionals for careers in nursing, physical therapy, dental hygiene, community and environmental health, and medical diagnostic and translational sciences. The college is committed to excellence and innovation in education, research and service. To prepare these health professionals as leaders locally and abroad, ODU is launching the Center for Global Health in conjunction with the College of Health Sciences. The center aims to create multidisciplinary global health experiences for faculty and students, prepare students to assume leadership roles in global health, and facilitate opportunities for students to learn about health from the global perspective. For more information about the College of Health Sciences, please visit http://hs.odu.edu/. Or, to learn more about the ODU Center for Global Health, visit http://hs.odu.edu/globalhealth/index.shtml.