Armenian nurses find a home away from home at UNMC

by Walter Brooks, UNMC public affairs | March 01, 2002

Although they had never been to Nebraska, traveling to the University of Nebraska Medical Center last month was a virtual homecoming for five graduate nurses from the Republic of Armenia.

Kristina Khueshudyan, Greta Khachatzyan, Marianna Barseghyan, Maya Simonyan and Roza Khachatzyan have taken a graduate course from UNMC. They were the first students at Armenia's Erebouni State Medical College to graduate with bachelor of science degrees in nursing -- the very program Ada Lindsey, Ph.D, dean of the UNMC College of Nursing, helped create while she was dean of the University of California Los Angeles School of Nursing.

"I never imagined I would have an opportunity to meet nurses who graduated from the program I helped design," Dr. Lindsey said. "It was an amazing experience to see how well the curriculum was implemented and to meet the first graduates. I'm also happy that they are now taking a core course in our graduate curriculum through UNMC's distance learning programs."

Armenia is a former Soviet Socialist Republic that gained its independence in 1991. Located along the eastern border of Turkey, Armenia is slightly smaller than the state of Maryland with a population of approximately 3.3 million. There are more than 7 million Armenians scattered throughout the world, including more than 1 million in the United States. Dr. Lindsey's Armenian connection at UCLA wasn't a coincidence. Of the more than 500,000 Armenians in California, the largest portion live in the greater Los Angeles area.

Adventures in America
Kristina Khueshudyan's experience at a local restaurant won't soon be forgotten. During dinner, Khueshudyan asked for a Fanta, a brand of soft drink once popular in America, but now mostly marketed in Europe.

The waiter returned with a small tumbler of clear liquid and ice. Khueshudyan, thinking he had brought a glass of water, took a swallow and almost choked. Because of her English accent, the waiter thought she had asked for vodka. The five nurses agreed that hers was the funniest story they would take back to Armenia.

In the early 1990s, Dr. Lindsey traveled to Yerevan, the capital city in Armenia, with two other faculty members. Together with Dr. Alina Kushkyan, Ph.D., director of the Erebouni School of Nursing, they designed a baccalaureate nursing program that was subsequently implemented.

After her appointment to UNMC, Dr. Lindsey and Dr. Kushkyan continued to explore ways in which UNMC's College of Nursing could assist Erebouni students via Internet courses. A graduate nursing course on advanced nursing practice and health-care system redesign already was being offered through UNMC's online services and was an ideal trial course for a global classroom.

UNMC's offering of a master's degree course at Erebouni evolved through the leadership of Sheila Ryan, Ph.D., professor in the UNMC College of Nursing, and pilot project funds from the American International Healthcare Alliance (AIHA). During the past 10 years, AIHA developed several health-care alliances between America and former Soviet and central Asian republics. The agency was especially interested in the ideas of Drs. Lindsey and Ryan because of the College of Nursing's success with many other undergraduate and graduate nursing courses using distance technology strategies.

Last August, Ellen Reichenbach, instructor at the College of Nursing-Lincoln Division, went to Yerevan to prepare the nurses for their online graduate course. There were a number of obstacles to overcome, including student Internet access restrictions and delays in the delivery of videotapes of UNMC class lectures. Those obstacles have since been overcome.

While visiting Omaha Feb. 4-9, the Armenian nurses not only attended classes and workshops, but gave invaluable feedback and assessment of what course concepts and readings were most effective for overseas learners. They said they have a great appreciation for the freedom of discussion in American classrooms and the collaboration between class members. In classroom interactions, the Armenians' English proficiency proved to be so good that translators were not needed.

UNMC College of Nursing faculty members were shown how the distance learning techniques offered to the Armenians provided a deep understanding and connection with professional nurses across national borders. The Armenians said they felt part of their class cohort and were comfortable joining the flow of graduate school dialogue and critical thinking.

The UNMC campus facilities and community clinics impressed Barseghyan and the other Armenian nurses. "Everything is the best and everything is oriented toward the patients," Barseghyan said. "Your doctors and nurses have much more time to focus totally on the patient. Your nurses have much more responsibility in the patient's care. We are so proud to be here and see for ourselves what health services can truly be with more resources and advanced training."

During their visit, the Armenians made several rounds with nurses at NHS Clarkson and University Hospitals and Children's Hospital, toured the Lied Transplant Center and shared outpatient clinical nursing practicums with UNMC graduate students. They also visited the SHARING Clinic in South Omaha and the annual Black Family Health Fair in North Omaha.

"It took more than 24 hours to fly from Armenia to Omaha," Simonyan said. "We were just so tired and exhausted upon landing. But Dr. Ryan greeted us and hugged us and was so excited to meet us. We were instantly refreshed. It was the kind of welcome we get from our own people. She was the first of so many nice Nebraska people we met."

Photo: Armenian graduate nurses, from left: Kristina Khueshudyan, Greta Khachatzyan, Marianna Barseghyan, Maya Simonyan and Roza Khachatzyan.