Harford Community College nurses, Bel Air officials laud recent Estonia journey

The six women who were nursing students at Harford Community College last semester and went to Narva, Estonia, to teach HIV prevention, had an opportunity this week to share their experiences with Bel Air town officials.

The group, joined by their advisers who traveled with them, gave a brief presentation about their trip to the board of town commissioners during Tuesday night’s town meeting. The students have since graduated and several are already in practice.

“These six ladies were remarkable ambassadors for Harford Community College and the Town of Bel Air,” Tina Zimmerman, the group’s lead adviser said at the conclusion of the presentation.

The trip to Estonia was from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1. The HCC students taught 27 sessions on HIV prevention to more than 625 students, ages 16 to 19, at Narva’s high schools.

Bel Air, which has had a sister city exchange agreement with Narva since 2014, was instrumental in setting up the trip, which served as the student nurses final practicum. A town steering committee established to foster the Narva partnership helped with arrangements, Town Administrator Jesse Bane said.

The town also provided $2,000 for the health exchange trip that was used to print the HIV prevention brochures the women used in their teaching. Other contributions included $4,200 from the Harford Community College; $6,000 from University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health and $5,000 from the U.S. Embassy in Tallin, Estonia’s capital. The City of Narva also paid for the students’ and facilitators’ food and lodging while they were in the city and bought their tickets for tourist visits.

The student nurses, Julie Rinker, Meaghan Butterfield, Stephanie Clutchley, Abigail Shibley, Emily Parker and Kristen Smith, took turns discussing different aspects of their trip. In addition to Zimmerman, the other advisors on the Estonia trip, Barbara Tower, a professor emeritus of nursing at HCC; Julie Siejack, clinical nurse manager for community health improvement at Upper Chesapeake Health; and Barbara Hallock, HCC’s coordinator for global education and engagement, attended the town meeting.

The participants said their experience in Estonia will benefit them in their nursing practice and showed them how cultural factors can impact health outcomes.

HIV is considered at epidemic proportions in Estonia, where one in 50 residents has the virus and one in 44 Narva residents has it, according to the presentation. Between 2000 and 2015, most of those infections occurred from injecting drugs; however, in the 2015-17, the majority of infections resulted from unsafe sexual practices.

The latter statistic prompted Mayor Susan Burdette to ask if there was a cause and effect relationship; however, Zimmerman replied the group had received “mixed messages” from Estonia and Narva officials regarding the shift and what may have been responsible for it.

Burdette said she and other town officials are proud of the six women for being “not only good ambassadors” for Bel Air, but “each one of you prevented one person from death — probably more. That’s really unbelievable.”

Bane, who was the town’s point person for the exchange, praised the women for “leaving the comforts of the USA” to help others.

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