Rhonda Bender, Nicholle Bieberdorf and Alice Thompson, nursing instructors from Northwest Technical College, got an up-close look at health care in Russia.
During their tour of a regional health hospital, the nurses were asked to watch at his side as the doctor performed surgery on a patient.
"We were blown away with how much we got to see," said Bender.
From June 23-29 the NTC nurses toured Tomsk, Siberia, with a motive to visit clinics, hospitals and nursing students from the local universities.
The nurses traveled as exchange professionals through an organization called Open World, which offers hands-on activities - such as workshops, job shadowing, and site visits - related to the delegates' professional work in their home country.
Since it was founded by Congress in 1999, NTC and Bemidji State University have worked with Open World to provide exchange trips for students and professionals.
Thompson, who has served as the Open World Community Coordinator for Russian delegates in Bemidji for six years, wrote a grant, which was later approved to fund the trip.
Last year, a group of six nursing students from Russia visited NTC and BSU through the Open World program. The students were given tours of the medical facilities and college nursing programs in Bemidji.
This was the first year nursing instructors from NTC traveled to Russia to do the same.
The three nurses arrived in Tomsk after traveling by plane from Moscow. A local English teacher from Tomsk traveled with the group as their translator.
Throughout the week the nurses met with administrators, doctors, nurses, and students from Siberian State Medical University and Tomsk Basic Medical College.
They visited the Regional Clinical Hospital and were given tours of the department of health. They met with the chief specialist of nursing and the chair of nursing clinical practice.
"They were so welcoming and so concerned that we would have a positive experience," said Bieberdorf. "We were very well taken care of."
The nurses answered many questions from Tomsk medical professionals about the two-year and four-year nursing programs at NTC and BSU.
None of the NTC nurses spoke the language, which made it a challenge to overcome the language barrier.
"A lot of our questions were clarifying the translation," said Bieberdorf. "Their language has fewer words than the English language, so if they use the word 'stuff,' it could mean many different things to us."
In the middle of the week the NTC nurses were asked to present at the regional scientific conference on nursing care in healthcare systems in Tomsk.
Thompson presented information on the Open World program; Bender talked about nursing education and the nursing process in America; and Bieberdorf presented on the importance of a healthy lifestyle for American nursing students.
"We were not under any restrictions as visitors would be subject to in the United States," said Thompson. "It was completely an open door policy when it came to us."
Before the NTC nurses toured the birth house at the hospital they were asked to put on white lab coats and shoe covers. Yet, when the nurses walked into the surgical case, they were not directed to wear any protective clothing.
"We spent a lot of time trying to understand their rationale for having us do certain things to minimize infections," said Bender.
The nurses cited several examples showing the differences between the delivery of health care in Bemidji and in Russia.
It was not unusual to find five or six metal cots in one hospital room in Tomsk, said Thompson. There were no visiting hours; patients have to go to the lobby to visit guests. Baby bottles were sanitized using a hot plate, and hand cleaning was done using a bar of soap and a dry cloth.
"There was such a dichotomy in their health care," said Bieberdorf. "It looked as if they were three decades behind in technology and resources, yet they were doing very advanced medical procedures."
NTC is expecting to host another group from Russia this fall. The group will be from the same town and faculty visited the college last year.
Bender, Bieberdorf and Thompson plan to continue working on an ongoing project with delegates from Russia through the Open World exchange program. They hope to compile health care data from a uniform survey given to medical professionals from both countries. The survey data will provide useful comparison information to students.
"As faculty we have a responsibility to our students to provide a broader cultural aspect," said Bender. "This trip was a way for us to do this."