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For healthy kids

Nursing researcher and students screen for health in the Dominican Republic

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  • Story by Chris Blose
  • Photos by Mary Schnell
  • Published: April 11, 2008

Dominican children crowd around to say goodbye to a group of Mizzou nursing students who were there to perform health screenings.

Nursing professor Jill Scott-Cawiezell and a team of nursing students headed south for sunnier weather for Spring Break, but they weren’t exactly on vacation. Although they did log a little pool time, they spent most of their time performing health screenings on kids ages three through 17 in impoverished parts of the Dominican Republic.

Team members ─ including graduate students, undergraduates, “accelerated” nursing undergraduates and the director of nursing for Columbia Regional Hospital ─ not only donated their time, but they also paid their own way for the trip and provided resources such as vitamins and toothbrushes for the kids they saw. For the experience, it was worth it.

“It was very humbling to go down there and see what those kids live with,” says Mary Schnell, a master’s student in the Sinclair School of Nursing and an experienced ER nurse. “They’re the most affectionate bunch of kids you’ve ever seen. It’s not like here, where you’ll go into Wal-Mart and see a kid throwing a fit because he can’t get a toy. These kids don’t know those toys exist. They only know that once a day, maybe twice, they get to eat.”

Schnell, who leads the ER nurses at Boone Hospital Center, brought her own triage expertise to the trip. The team screened around 500 kids in four days, so efficiency was crucial ─ but not at the expense of letting sick kids fall through the cracks.

“It’s a good process that we’ve refined,” says Scott-Cawiezell, “but it really takes a team effort.” That team includes interpreters and local staff members who help communicate with the kids, especially the younger ones, who are sometimes reluctant to speak. A keen sense of vision is important as the nurses look for visible conditions such as scabies, ringworm and other things that the children might not even be able to describe.


Nursing student India Blevins holds two local children in the Dominican Republic. Blevins was part of the 12-person team from Mizzou performing health screenings.

Scott-Cawiezell has been working in the Dominican for about a decade, including trips with Mizzou students for the past three years. She works with Vision Trust International, a nonprofit group dedicated to care for children in third-world countries. Through a memorandum of understanding between Vision Trust and Mizzou, Scott-Cawiezell also manages a database that tracks the health of kids in the Dominican and elsewhere. So in addition to the unique experiences on screening trips, Scott-Cawiezell’s students have access to the database for public-health research projects.

Scott-Cawiezell’s main hope in taking students on this trip, though, is that it may spark a desire to help not just now, but for life: “Maybe they’ll gain a heart for children in the developing world and dedicate part of their career to people who get forgotten.”

Read more in:  Beyond CampusFamily & CommunityHealth & Medicine

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Last updated: June 6, 2013