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Robert Morris University nursing students to return to Nicaragua

About Tory N. Parrish

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By Tory N. Parrish

Published: Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, 8:54 p.m.

Robert Morris University nursing student Laryn Smith first traveled to Nicaragua with faculty and peers to improve the lives of people in poor communities.

Hers was the life that changed.

“They don't want you to leave. ... The cost of the trip really doesn't mean anything after you get this kind of reaction from them,” said Smith, 23, a senior from St. Marys, Elk County.

So Smith will travel to the Central American country again next month. She will be among 26 nursing students, mostly seniors, who pay $2,500 in travel and related costs to accompany RMU nursing professor Carl Ross on his 80th trip there.

Ross leads three to four student trips a year to Nicaragua, where his students earn clinical credit for their community health nursing course, he said.

“One of the ultimate goals is just to introduce my students to less fortunate populations and to see the students come back changed forever,” he said.

RMU partners with Universidad Politecnica de Nicaragua, said Ross, who also is coordinator of international activities at RMU's nursing school.

With 5.7 million citizens, Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America, according to the CIA's World Factbook.

“They're very poor — dirt roads, homes made out of thin plywood and plastic, tin roofs, dirt floors in many of the homes, minimal electricity and water. ... It's not uncommon to have five or eight people living in a very small house,” said Ross, 55, of Cranberry.

During the RMU group's trip from Nov. 8-20, the travelers will work alongside a group of UPOLI nursing students and faculty at a coffee farm in Jinotega. There they will teach about 250 farm workers about managing or preventing back pain, dehydration, hypertension, diabetes, respiratory conditions and parasitic bites, he said.

In the second week, the group will see about 200 people in the capital city of Managua.

In the mornings, students in groups of two to three will work in homes identifying environmental, developmental and physical health issues, Ross said. In the afternoons, they will work in a men's clinic Ross helped establish in 2000.

As a licensed nurse practitioner, Ross can prescribe medication, but because of the extreme poverty of the people receiving attention, the medical group focuses on teaching natural health remedies and preventive techniques that cost little or nothing.

Ross first traveled to Nicaragua in 1995 when he was a nursing professor at Duquesne University. He volunteered to chair sister-school relations, which led to him doing doctoral work in Nicaragua. He opened clinics and worked with the minister of health.

RMU hired Ross in 2005, and in 2006 RMU's and UPOLI's nursing schools agreed to develop joint research and academic and cultural activities.

The RMU International Fund pays for medical supplies for the trip. Ross typically needs about $1,500 worth of supplies, he said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or




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