I never dreamed I would have an opportunity to walk through the United Nations’ headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, or attend the World Health Assembly. But those dreams became a reality in May 2017 when I had the privilege of attending the 70th World Health Assembly (WHA) where I listened to Director General Dr. Margaret Chan give her final address. I was overwhelmed by the experiences I had as part of Kent State University College of Nursing’s Global Health Immersion course.

Of the 17 students on the trip, eight were nursing students, eight were public health students and one was pre-medical. During our two weeks abroad, we attended multiple sessions, many consisting of health ministers reporting on the health status of his or her country. We learned about The United Nations Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDGs), which consist of 17 goals “to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda[1].” The SDGs were depicted differently everywhere we went, but my favorite had Good Health and Well-Being at the center. We cannot sustain health without addressing other core issues that contribute to good health and that made me realize how far removed nurses are from public health in the United States. As an advanced practice nurse (APN), I dream of the day when APNs will be providers in primary health centers. We will know every family, their health concerns, and will provide individualized care. The health of each family, the grass root unit of society, reflects the health of the nation and when good health is only available to those who have insurance (a privilege and not a human right), the health of the nation may be unbalanced.

During our visit to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Society (IFRC), we met Elhadj As Sy, Secretary General and CEO, along with Australian pediatric nurse, Amanda McClelland, Senior Officer in the Emergency Health Unit. McClelland was the 2015 recipient of the Florence Nightingale award for demonstrating “exceptional courage and devotion to victims of armed conflict and natural disasters[2].” She has done tremendous work for the 2004 Tsunami victims and during the EBOLA breakout in West Africa.

At the World Council of Churches, we had the opportunity to be part of their strategic planning session. We learned about emergency response in the midst of disease outbreaks from Dr. Peter Mala and vaccine safety from Dr. Madhav Balakrishnan.

We also met Dr. Unni Krishnan from Save the Children, a nonprofit organization that creates child friendly spaces for children who have become separated from their parents or who have lost their parents during wars and conflicts between tribes. We were amazed by the humanitarian work they perform.

Our trip abroad wouldn’t have been complete without a few sightseeing trips. In France, we saw Lake Annecy, which was breathtaking. The streets were crowded with vendors selling paintings, wood carvings and other beautiful art works. We also went up Mont Blanc and saw the French Alps.

In Barcelona, Spain, we saw La Sagrada Familia Basilica, a work that has been in progress for more than 100 years. How amazing to see a structure that grand being built in our lifetime.

Common sights in Geneva:

  • People live in apartments and grow plants and flowers on their balcony.
  • Bicycles and motorcycles were very popular.
  • Bikes and well behaved dogs on public transportation.
  • Small town shops were closed in the evenings.
  • Coke was more expensive than wine.
  • Restaurants are open between 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. for lunch and then they don’t serve food again until 6:30 or 7 p.m. In the meantime, alcohol is served. No single checks for meals as a group.
  • Police officers drove BMWs and Mercedes-Benz.

Personal highlights from this experience:

  • Experiencing the World Health Assembly
  • Forming new friendships
  • Travelling to a new country and learning their way of life
  • Having the opportunity to meet delegates from 194 countries at WHA and tapping into their knowledge
  • Ability to network with experts in the nursing profession

At the end of the course, we presented group projects addressing health care issues from the perspective of both nursing and public health. This class was a good example of interdisciplinary education and networking for future collaboration as healthcare professionals. Through the global perspectives students experienced during this trip at the WHA and other international organizations, they have a networking head start. More nursing students should take this class to get a global perspective of health and health care to improve good health and well-being in the United States.

This was a once in a lifetime experience and I am thankful I had the opportunity to absorb it all. It has made me focus outward, be perceptive to the needs of people in my own neighborhood, and look beyond sickness care. We have a long way to go when it comes to making health care available to all our citizens, but I am focused on what I can do as an APN in my practice and community. I am thankful to Dr. Yvonne Smith, Kent State University College of Nursing, and Dean Ken Slenkovich and Dr. Thomas Brewer, Kent State University College of Public Health, for making this experience possible.

Geneva, Switzerland

[1] Sustainable development goals. (n.d.). Retrieved June 30, 2017, from http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

[2] Florence Nightingale Medal: Honouring exceptional nurses and nursing aides – 2015 recipients. (2015, May 12). Retrieved June 30, 2017, from https://www.icrc.org/en/document/florence-nightingale-medal-honouring-exceptional-nurses-and-nursing-aides-2015-recipients