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Russia health care professionals tour local education facilities

Russian facilitator Tatyana Reva and health care professionals Inna Bespalova and Alexander Ovsyannikov watch as Christy Cook, practical nursing instructor at Northwest Technical College, simulates delivering a baby, using a delivery mannequin. At right are Russian health care professional Natalya Biryukova and translator Yurey Skripnikov. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Touring academic institutions and health care facilities in Bemidji, five Russian health care professionals are getting a first-hand look at nursing education in the United States.

The delegation is visiting Bemidji this week through the Open World Program that was created by the U.S. Congress in 2000.

"We have four physicians and one senior nurse here from three different communities in Russia," said Alice Thompson, host city coordinator. "And the communities are Tomsk, Balakovo and Kursk."

North Country Health Services is hosting the delegates, who arrived Sunday in Bemidji and will depart Monday. NCHS has been the U.S. partner in three U.S.-Russian health care partnerships since 2000 and has hosted six Open World delegations from Russia and Uzbekistan since 2003.

While in Bemidji, the delegates - Inna Bespalova and Zoya Silich from Tomsk and Natalya Biryukova, Svetlana Melanich and Alexander Ovsyannikov from Balakovo - are participating in a professional program to learn how nursing education is implemented here, Thompson said.

"It is customary in Russia that instructors in nursing are physicians," she added.

Since Monday, the delegates have visited Bemidji State University, Northwest Technical College, North Country Regional Hospital and Beltrami County Health and Human Services, where they have joined in discussions, demonstrations and tours. They also presented "Health Care Delivery in Russia" at a Rotary meeting Monday in Bemidji.

Impressions shared

Speaking in Russian during an interview Thursday, the delegates shared their impressions of their visit to Bemidji. Facilitator Tatyana Reva, who teaches English at Kursk State University in Kursk, translated their responses into English.

Bespalova, assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Practice of Nursing at Siberian State Medical University in Tomsk, said her first impression was the warm welcome the delegates received when they arrived.

"We had a very long trip from Russia to the United States, and when we finally arrived at the Bemidji airport, we saw people who looked like our close friends," she said.

Biryukova, director of Balakovo Medical School, said her first impression was the democratic attitude of students and faculty.

"The students here have the right not only to go to school and to study, but they also have the right to participate in the curriculum development and the educational development," she said.

"I was really impressed, as my colleagues, with ... how well the organizations and facilities we visited are equipped," said Melanich, vice president of Public Health Services in Balakovo.

"I was just impressed by the technical college lab," Biryukova said. "And being the director of a medical college, I'm jealous, but in a very good sense of this word, I am jealous that you have such good equipment in the college."

During one of their visits to the college, the delegates saw a simulated birth involving a delivery mannequin.

"They were right in there - so interested," said Rhonda Bender, NTC nursing program director. "It was just great fun."

Today, she said, the delegates will spend time with students and faculty in the skills lab at the college. They will also meet with students to exchange information on cultural influences and nursing roles in the health care delivery system.

The delegates also visited BSU more than once.

Jeanine Gangeness, chairwoman of BSU's Department of Nursing and associate professor of nursing, noted that the interaction between the students, faculty and delegates has been positive and informative. She added that the visit has informed faculty and "helped open the world up to students."

Other observations

While in Bemidji, Bespalova said the delegates have learned more information on the curriculum used locally.

"We found out some similarities, of course, and some differences," she said.

She said the delegates discovered new formats of work that they can use in their work with students. She said, for example, that she was impressed to learn that all students are taught how to conduct scientific research.

"Often times back in Russia, only students who are leaders by nature ... conduct scientific research and they have to learn how to do that independently," she said.

Bespalova said the Open World program has allowed the delegates to not only learn about health education and education in the United States, but to learn more about American traditions and culture.

Melanich said she likes that senior citizens in America are really active in the community.

"And I like the fact that the young people who go to the college or the university ... are independent," she added. "They work to cover their education fees and also they pay for their everyday needs."

Biryukova said she has observed during the visit that, when a group of people encounter a problem and have to find a solution, each member of the group is given the opportunity to share their opinions.

"And I think each one of us will use this method of communication in our experience and our work back in Russia," she said. "And this is something new, something that we learned here, so it was kind of a school of communication."

The exchange of information has gone both ways between the Russian delegates and their American colleagues.

"Undoubtedly, we also have something to share and something to show them because the Russian medical system focuses on prevention a lot and the system is characterized by an ability to monitor a person along his or her lifetime," said Ovsyannikov, chief of staff of Central Regional Clinic in Balakovo.

He added that Russia offers many benefits and public, government-funded programs that focus on the health care delivery for its citizens.

Meanwhile, Americans are very open and easy to communicate with, Ovsyannikov said.

"This is very important because we are from different continents and we are different to some extent, but nevertheless we came to understand each other very well," he said. "And sharing our experiences and opinions will result in receiving a lot of benefits not only to our delegation, but we hope it is also beneficial for the people in Bemidji."

Planning next steps

Biryukova said the delegates are planning on implementing or applying some of the things they've seen in Bemidji into their work back in Russia.

"One of the purposes of our visit is to come up with the idea of a joint project," she said. "We hope that our joint project will be implemented not only by the ... representatives of Tomsk and Balakovo, but we also look forward to receiving consultancy from the people of Bemidji."

"And we hope that this visit and this trip is just the first step," Bespalova said. "We are sure to continue our collaboration between the cities of Balakova and Tomsk ... and we all look forward to working collaboratively with our colleagues in Bemidji."