Solving global health problems

Sharon Gunn (right) with a fellow intern at the United Nations building in Geneva

Sharon Gunn (right) with a fellow intern at the United Nations building in Geneva

Delicious chocolate. Wartime neutrality. Skiing down the scenic Alps. That’s what most people think of when they imagine Switzerland. But Lindsey Patton, a TCU graduate nursing students Sharon Gunn, a recent Doctor of Nursing Practice graduate, see Switzerland as the place where they experienced once-in-a-lifetime internships at two of world’s most prestigious health research organizations.

Last summer, Patton participated in the World Health Organization’s highly competitive internship program, while Gunn interned for three weeks at the International Council of Nurses headquarters. During their time in the land of Swiss Army Knives and alpine horns, both nurses expanded their global perspectives while helping tackle some of the world’s pressing health problems.

At the World Health Organization (WHO), Patton worked with the HIV and AIDS department. She attended monthly meetings with other countries to discuss the progression and future of the epidemic, translated Spanish surveys into English and analyzed international data.

Established in 1948, the WHO is affiliated with the United Nations and helps governments tackle global health problems through conducting research, developing health guidelines and issuing reports. More than 8,000 public health professionals across 147 countries work for the organization, including doctors, scientists, administrators and other experts. Its programs help people living in poverty gain access to affordable care.

Patton witnessed experts from countries across the globe band together to tackle health problems with the same goal: to improve the lives and health of people in need. Working with a multicultural group allowed for international perspectives and insights that helped solve the problems at hand.

Although she traveled to Switzerland with an American point of view, Patton says living and experiencing life in Geneva for three months changed her mindset towards public health. Patton encourages all TCU students to apply for internships abroad to stretch themselves to understand different cultures and become adaptable so that they can make an impact in the world.

“If you believe in something, and you feel strongly about it, then take the initiative to make a difference,” advised Patton.

Gunn, who was also in Geneva, spent her study abroad experience at the headquarters for the International Council of Nurses (ICN), a federation of more than 130 nursing associations worldwide. Membership is exclusive, allowing only one nursing organization per nation, and together ICN members ensure quality care and sound health policies for citizens throughout the world.

The Jet D’eau on Lake Geneva

The Jet D’eau on Lake Geneva

Gunn worked closely with the Chief Nursing Officer, David Benton, during her internship. She also developed a business plan for the creation of Corporate University, an online educational institution designed to disseminate information to nurses across the globe.

“The need for access to high-quality, evidence-based information is vital for nurses from all regions of the globe so that they may provide the best care possible for patients,” explained Gunn.

The ICN staff is small, with only four registered nurses and support from administrative assistants. Gunn said it was amazing to see how few people could make such a huge difference to the profession.

It wasn’t all work during Gunn’s stay, though. She stayed at a local residence, where she had the opportunity to meet fellow travelers from all over the world. On weekends, Gunn was able to tour many of Geneva’s non-governmental organizations and take trips to tourist sites like the breathtaking Lake Geneva.

“There were many things about this experience that will stay with me for my entire life,” said Gunn. “Seize every opportunity that comes along – you never know how it may change your life and perspective, or how it can shape your future profession.”