Mediterranean island provides healthcare perspective


By: Caroline Whitlow
Creative Services Student Writer

Nursing in Malta

During World War II, the island of Malta was called the “nurse of the Mediterranean” because of its clinics that cared for Italian soldiers. During the summer study abroad term, nursing and health sciences students witnessed the island’s nurturing atmosphere firsthand as they gained an international healthcare perspective at a university and within clinical facilities. 

“We wanted to remove the idea of tourism and focus on how people live and what resources are available to maintain good health,” said Jamie Robinson, program co- director for the Malta study abroad experience. To accomplish this, students and faculty lived in a small village alongside locals.

The trip kicked off with a scavenger hunt around the village.  During the hunt, students met staff at a local restaurant, figured out the bus system, and found their way to useful locations such as the grocery store, laundromat and police station. 

Assessment of the community continued with excursions guided by Maltese history expert Peter Vella. Vella discussed relevant topics such as the impact of history and religion on healthcare.  Students then completed a “windshield survey.” 

“A windshield survey is a way for students to assess nine essential elements: community core, physical environment, education, safety and transportation, politics and government, health and social services, economics, and recreation,” said Robinson. “They physically walk around and take note of resources.”

Learning was also provided in a traditional academic setting at the historic University of Malta. “You could see how old the buildings were with the architecture. All of their professors were smart and nice, and they wanted to tell you about their culture,” said nursing student Olivia Volman. 

Placement in local health care facilities, called ‘health centres’ was another a major element of the program. Witnessing patient care first hand emphasized how methods of service delivery compare and contrast between Malta and the U.S. “It mirrors the U.S. in some ways and offers contrast in others.  Malta has a system of socialized medicine, and while it is very good in the way it is operationalized, it is different” said Robinson. Although the care is public and universal, the tight-knit community can make health appointments feel a lot like being a regular at a coffee shop. "The nurses really know their patients.  They recognize them and remember their histories right when they walk in the door,” said Volman. 

This close community combined with a strong religious presence provides support to encourage emotional and mental health on the island.  Malta has lower rates of mental illness than the U.S. Incidences of diabetes and heart disease, however, are similarly high.  Both genetics and diet account for the prevalence of these illnesses.  While the traditional diet consists of nutritious fish and vegetables, fast food restaurants and bakeries have popped up in recent decades. “They have a lot of fast foods like we do.  It was all baked goods and pizza, very Americanized,” said Volman.

Nursing in Malta

Students gained so much from their experience in health centres that program directors hope to include official clinical hours in future programs.

“One of our goals for this trip was to ascertain the feasibility of using it for clinical hours in our Population-Centered Care in the Community Clinical course. The feedback from the University of Malta, the health centres in Malta, and from students is overwhelmingly positive,” said Robinson. Overall, the program provides valuable perspective that will allow them to become more empathetic practitioners.

“You learn that your way of being is not the only way and that there is more than one ‘right way’ to live,” said Robinson.  “I think our students left with open eyes and open hearts, meaning that they are looking beyond the surface to see what is important to individuals so that they can provide the best healthcare to each individual they encounter.”

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Published: Friday, October 13, 2017

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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