University of South Carolina

Nursing professor takes teaching overseas

By Jeff Stensland., 803-777-3686

With 36 years of nursing experience under her belt, Julia Ball is a big believer in the value of breaking out of one’s comfort zone. Whether learning a new technique for controlling diabetes or interacting with an elderly patient who doesn’t speak your language, the profession demands a hefty dose of flexibility and ingenuity.

Ball, interim associate dean for academics at USC’s College of Nursing, is helping share that message with students in Columbia as well as practicing nurses in Germany. She just spent three weeks teaching 42 nurses at the Lutheran University of Applied Sciences in Nuremberg how to improve care to chronically ill patients.

Germany, like the U.S., is dealing with an aging and increasingly sicker population. And since it is part of the European Union, it must also get practicing nurses trained to meet new educational standards. Ball said while the nursing care there is good, the training lacks the more scientific approach used in American nursing programs. She's trying to help bridge that gap, combining real-world nursing experience with academic research.

“They learn under more of an apprenticeship system there, and it’s very skills-based,” she said. “They know how to do certain things, but don’t necessarily understand the theory behind it. What I try to teach is theory and critical thinking, and it’s great when you see the light bulbs go off.”

While there were minor cultural distinctions--students pound their fists on desks rather than clap to register approval--language was not a problem. That’s because before coming to USC, Ball and her husband, a textile executive, spent six years living in the southern German town of Ingolstadt.

“It was a great experience, and I still have many friends there,” she said.

That background helped her bond with the nurses in class, who worked on case studies and shared stories from the field. To show their appreciation, they presented Ball with a bouquet of flowers at the final class.

She will return to Germany in July, where she will address a group of graduating nursing students in Munich. "I worked with them three years ago when they had just begun their studies and I had taken a group of my students from USC Aiken, so it will be exciting to see them again as they graduate."

Both Ball and her husband are natives of England who came to the U.S. four decades ago. And although she still has a noticeable English accent, much of her adult life has been spent in the American South, including stints in North Carolina and Texas. Before temporarily cancelling her retirement plans and coming to USC’s Columbia campus, Ball served as dean of the USC Aiken nursing program for six years.

Her travels, especially in Europe, have convinced her that nursing students in the U.S. benefit greatly from studying abroad and she is exploring a potential student exchange program for nursing students in Columbia.

For starters, she says interacting with people who don’t speak the same language teaches patience and improves nurses’ abilities to pick up on non-verbal cues, an especially important talent when treating with sick people.

“I’ve been taking students on travel abroad experiences since 1997, when I was at Lander University, because there’s so much we can learn” she said. “One of the things they see is a comprehensive health system that works. It’s actually good for them to see that the U.S. doesn’t have all the answers and that we’re not the tops in everything. That’s one of the ways we can get better.”

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Posted: 06/24/13 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 06/24/13 @ 10:45 AM | Permalink