Good listeners are hard to find. Tamara McKinnon was lucky to find an astute listener in her academic advisor/mentor that led to a revelatory moment and a published book!
"For 20 years, I wondered why there were no set standards; why no one was communicating on how to start a global service-learning (GSL) program," said McKinnon, DNP, RN, who has participated in or created several such programs over the years.
Then while working on her doctorate at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, the Capitola, CA, resident walked into the office of her academic advisor ¾ who shares her passion for GSL programs ¾ to chat and walked out with the idea for a book that would provide the answers.
What is GSL?
Edited by McKinnon, who also wrote several chapters, and her advisor/mentor Joyce Fitzpatrick, PhD, RN, FAAN, at Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, Case Western Reserve, Global Service-Learning in Nursing was published by the National League for Nursing late last year.
So what is global service learning?
"It is a new label for public health nursing," explained Fitzpatrick, who has been involved in many GSL programs. "It is going back to our roots."
"There's an important distinction to global service-learning projects," Fitzpatrick continued. "It doesn't mean going to another country, although you can do a project outside the U.S.; it means caring for your community."
McKinnon and Fitzpatrick stress that GSL programs are collaborations among the community, sponsoring institution (which is often a university) and the participating student/volunteer, with the goal that the community "will sustain the project after volunteers have gone," McKinnon said. "Sustainability is key."
McKinnon points out the definition of community can be broad:
"Around the corner and across the globe" is how she describes GSL in workshops she conducts on the topic. "This book is talking about community-based programs rather than community-priced programs," she said.
McKinnon knows all about that. Her first GSL project, before it was ever called that, was at age 19 in Tijuana, Mexico, shortly after taking an EMT class and a semester of pre-nursing courses.
"I have always been interested in volunteering," she said. "I signed up for Mexico even though I knew very little Spanish.
"When I got there I learned they needed a nurse to work in the Tijuana jail," she continued.
"Because of my classes I had more healthcare experience than any other volunteer, so I was assigned to the jail, where I spent every day for 6 months."
Upon her return to the U.S., McKinnon was changed.
"It was a pivotal experience for me," she recalled. "When I got home I made a commitment that volunteering would be part of my life for the rest of my life."
She kept that promise.
Throughout her schooling she volunteered on these missions and encouraged fellow students to attend. McKinnon would earn her BSN at California State University, Chico, an MSN from San Jose State University where she is a lecturer at the Valley Foundation School of Nursing as well as a consultant at Health Improvement Partnership.
And then she pursued her DNP at Case Western, which brought her to Fitzpatrick's door.
"When Tamara came to me it became clear we needed to gather the expertise of colleagues who might want to share their experiences with others," said Fitzpatrick.
"I walked into her office and Joyce saw what value a book could provide," McKinnon recalled. "My idea was to develop a program on GSL and do workshops and articles. Joyce envisioned a book."
Developing GSL Content
McKinnon began research on the book while she working on her doctoral thesis. "I got the book done in about a year and a half," she said. "It was completed before my thesis."
She scoured the literature for articles on GSL programs.
"Through my research I realized people were far more knowledgeable than me on how to start a GSL program," she said. "When I found people who did this so well, I contacted them and asked them to write a section in the book. Everyone I contacted immediately agreed."
From her years of experience, McKinnon runs a nurse-managed clinic four miles from her home that caters mainly to first-generation, Spanish-speaking residents of the area, she created seven principles to guide those trying to create a program. They include: compassion, curiosity, courage, collaboration, creativity, capacity building (a hallmark of any GSL program) and competence.
She is also interested in encouraging colleges and universities to offer credit to students who participate in global service-learning projects. Many schools, including nursing programs, encourage students to volunteer.
Contributors to Global Service-Learning in Nursing include:
- Marilyn Lotas, PhD, RN, another Case Western nursing professor;
- Anne R. Bavier, PhD, RN, FAAN at the University of Connecticut;
- Doreen Harper and Lynda Wilson, both PhD, RN, FAAN, at the World Health Organization Collaboration Centre at the University of Alabama;
- Erin Maughan, PhD, RN, at Brigham Young University; and
- Donna Nickitas, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, CNE, at the City University of New York.
"Gerard Fealy, [PhD, MEd, BNS, RGN, RPH, RNT], from University College, Dublin, Ireland, coauthored two chapters with me," McKinnon added. "And Virginia Adams, PhD, RN, wrote on the theoretical approach to developing a GSL partnership, using appreciative inquiry, a business tool which encourages focus on what is right, rather than what is not working."
Now McKinnon is hoping to continue working with NLN on workshops and training in GSL.
"I'd also like to start some sort of website where a nurse or student can find out where to use their skills to volunteer, matching expertise with the right position. Kind of a match.com for global service-learning programs."
Gail O. Guterl is a frequent contributor to ADVANCE.