Johns Hopkins Gazette: February 26, 1996

On Nursing:
Peace Corps Returnees Use International Experience In Baltimore

Mike Field
Staff Writer

     March 1 marks the 35th anniversary of the founding of the
Peace Corps. A favorite cause of President Kennedy's, the 
international aid effort came to life during a meeting with young
people in the 1960 presidential campaign. Kennedy believed the
country could harness the energy and idealism of youth to act as
foot soldiers in the international effort to end poverty. He
alluded to this in his inaugural address. 

     "To those peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe
struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best
efforts to help them help themselves," the new president
declared. On March 1, 1961, Kennedy issued the executive order
creating the Peace Corps, naming Sargent Shriver as its first
director. Three and a half decades later, nearly 150,000
volunteers of all ages have performed Peace Corps duties in more
than 100 countries.

     For the past seven years, Peace Corps volunteers returning
to the States have been able to continue their experiences in
community health care through an innovative program established
in conjunction with the Hopkins School of Nursing. 

     "What we've done is develop a very enriched curriculum in
which some of our best faculty work with returning Peace Corps
volunteers to provide a truly outstanding education in community
nursing," said associate nursing dean Stella Shiber, who serves
as director of the Peace Corps Fellows Program.

    To date, 34 Peace Corps fellows have graduated, and another
24 are currently enrolled in a program that puts the former
volunteers on the front lines of urban community health issues
through work in clinics scattered throughout Baltimore. Returning
Peace Corps volunteers are particularly effective in these
situations, said Shiber, because their experiences overseas
prepare them to deal with the cultural differences that confront
public health professionals working with the urban poor.

     Nursing Peace Corps fellow Nancy Glass, now a clinical
instructor in the School of Nursing, came to Hopkins after
working as an HIV/AIDS educator in Zaire. 

     "I grew up in a small town in rural Virginia," she said,
"and until I went into the Peace Corps I didn't have a concept of
cultural diversity. My experience overseas helped me learn to try
to avoid stereotypes and just listen to people, which is
tremendously important in nursing."

     About two dozen Peace Corps fellows programs in education,
social work, public health and other disciplines have been
established at universities across the nation, but to date,
Hopkins has the only program in nursing for former volunteers.

     "One of the goals of the Peace Corps is to 'bring it back
home,' to make use of the experiences learned overseas in a way
that will contribute something to this country," Shiber said.
"Typically these are people coming back to the States with very
high service ideals and we are surrounded by a very needy
population, so it's a perfect fit."

   "There's just a different set of expectations among returning
Peace Corps volunteers," said Glass, who worked out of a
community hospital in Kinkonzi, a village in the Bas Zaire region
of the country. Much of her time was devoted to teaching others
how to implement AIDS prevention programs. In her work she spoke
French and Kiombi, a central African dialect.

    "Part of the Peace Corps experience is living on your own and
learning to make do," Glass said. "One of the things that happens
when you put former volunteers together is they all start
recounting their biggest adventure since there are always stories
to tell."

     That sense of adventure works well within the context of the
Nursing School's efforts to expand and enhance health services in
some of Baltimore's most underserved neighborhoods. 

     "In my experience the returned volunteers have more of a
comfort level among less conventional surroundings and in
different cultures," Glass said. "For instance, one thing you
will see in developing nations is a tendency of patients to look
to family members first for treatment. Medicine is expensive and
sometimes difficult to obtain, so consequently there's a lot of
reliance on home remedies. The same is true here as well, at
least among the poor, although it's often very hard for others to
understand that."

     Peace Corps fellows in nursing need a bachelor's degree to
enter the program, allowing them to pursue their nursing degrees
in either the standard two-year or the accelerated 13-month
bachelor of science tracks. In addition to their regular studies,
the fellows have weekly meetings with nursing community health
faculty and spend considerable time working in the various
clinics around town. Admission into the fellowship program
includes some financial aid, according to Shiber, as there are
grants and scholarships available.

     "This is a tough and demanding program that really requires
our fellows to  give their all," Shiber said. "It is only open to
those who have successfully completed a tour of duty in the Peace
Corps. These are very focused  individuals and it shows. We've
never had a returned Peace Corps volunteer student drop out of
the program since it was established."

     In clinics and community centers across Baltimore, former
Peace Corps volunteers are bringing nursing health care to the
people, often in much the same way they did in countries in Asia,
Africa, South America and Central Europe. Trained in community
health nursing with a special emphasis on the urban poor, they
are 'bringing it home' to some of America's neediest citizens.

     "This program is a great opportunity to get hands-on
experience working in the community," Glass said. "The School of
Nursing is invested, we're here for the long run. The fellowship
program is the perfect vehicle for matching the needs of the
urban poor with the unique skills these individuals have gained

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