"Caring is the essence of nursing," said renowned nursing science theoretician Jean Watson, distinguished professor of nursing at the University of Colorado-Denver and founder of the Watson Caring Science Institute.
It's a principle that Marylouise Welch applies to her work, whether she's in front of her students as professor of nursing at St. Joseph College or with patients in Guyana as part of a St. Joseph College program she began in 2002 to bring improved medical care to this underdeveloped South American nation.
Called the Guyana Immersion Experience, the program brings St. Joseph's nursing students and others at least once a year to work in Guyana's hospitals, clinics, orphanages and shelters where they provide badly needed aid and expertise. Along the way, the students learn to deliver cross-border compassion and care to individuals and families in a country far different from their own.
"We've had between 60 and 70 students go through the program," Welch said. "We've now educated four Guyanese nurses in our master's degree program, paid for by St. Joseph College, and we're currently educating two more. Prior to this, there was only one nurse in the entire country with a master's degree. The Guyana Ministry of Health and the University of Guyana are very excited about this. It's our hope they will they retain strong ties to their country and not emigrate as so many others have done. So far, this has been true."
Although the students' presence has had a positive effect, Welch said, with ongoing problems in a developing nation like Guyana, it's hard to truly assess the overall impact the program has had on a larger, national scale.
"It's incremental," she said. "We provide health care and counseling services, fund school snack programs for children, and we do a tremendous amount of on-site teaching."
For example, she said, one week she and another member of the group conducted at least 17 different seminars at the public hospital on the topic of universal precautions people can employ to minimize the risk of infections. They covered every shift, she said.
Closer to home, Welch recognizes the need for health care reform in the United States to make coverage more affordable and available. She has supported President Obama's reforms but believes more is needed, ultimately in the form of a single-payer system, if his goals are to be realized.
Nurses will be needed more than ever, too, she said, as the baby boom generation ages in the face of fewer primary care doctors. This means, she added, that primary grade schools and high schools also need to perform better than in the past in preparing students with a core education, one that is up to the task of a meeting a strong nursing education curricula and the demands the profession will face in the years ahead.
"All nurses today should at least have a bachelor's degree," she said. "We have a bachelor's program at St. Joseph and our nurse practitioners have a job long before they finish."
Welch has recently retired from her teaching position, but, according to Joyce Fontana, St. Joseph's School of Health and Natural Sciences' chair, "after having taught more than 1,000 now-practicing nurses, Marylou's legacy of expert, culturally competent patient care will continue to touch patients all over the world through the students she has taught."
Title: Professor of Nursing
Work place: St. Joseph College
Address: 1678 Asylum Ave., Hartford, CT 06117
Web site: www.sjc.edu