Sutherland Researches Student Health in Chile

melissa sutherland

Five thousand miles from Boston College lies Pontificia Universidad Católica in Santiago, Chile. Though the campuses are separated by a roughly 13-hour plane ride, they both have a prestigious reputation within their countries, an emphasis on Catholic values in education, and now a shared faculty member—Melissa Sutherland, an associate professor in the Connell School of Nursing.

Sutherland arrived at PUC in early March, after receiving a Fulbright Award in September of last year. Her project, entitled “Collaboration is the Future of Health Care: A Chile/United States Nursing Exchange,” will allow her to research and lecture at PUC through July.

Sutherland’s plans in Chile include expanding the research work she does at BC, which focuses largely on sexual health and sexual violence among college students, especially young women. For now, she is focused on teaching work at PUC, and is co-teaching a global public health class with Lillian Ferrer.

Sutherland’s interest in public health began during her time at nursing school at Binghamton University, and she built upon it through her work in the Sexually Transmitted Disease program in a New York public health department. She later worked as a family nurse practitioner, obtained a Ph.D. in nursing science, and came to BC as a professor, where she has taught for eight years.

It is largely through nursing that Sutherland became involved in the Fulbright Scholar Program, as it was two nursing colleagues that encouraged her to apply for the scholarship. The Fulbright Scholarship itself was established to promote “international good will” through educational exchange in a variety of fields.

Given the globalization of our world and the ease of interaction between remote countries, public health is a field for which “international understanding” is extremely important. Each country can only be as “healthy” as those surrounding it, so exchange between countries is essential.

BC and PUC began their own educational exchange in 2015, when the two were established as partner institutions. The idea of using education as a tool to increase good will and rapport between such distant universities is one especially relevant to Sutherland.

In an email, she said that she saw the Fulbright Award, “as a mechanism in which to build upon an existing collaboration.”

PUC has a robust public health education program, and its Catholic background and familiarity to BC were also appealing to Sutherland.

Continuing to build the relationship between BC and PUC could be beneficial not only to expanding and broadening the scope of CSON’s research, but could also provide further opportunities for international exchange for CSON students and faculty.

Sutherland’s background as a nurse practitioner has served her well since arriving in Chile, a country that has a lower nurse-to-patient ratio than the U.S. The Pan-American Health Organization has called for the introduction of advanced practice nurses. Her daily work includes meeting with educators and others interested in working to improve nursing  in Chile. Since Sutherland is a family nurse practitioner, her expertise is in great demand and her experience has drawn interest.

“There is a great interest in nurse practitioner and since I am a family nurse practitioner, there has been an interest in my experiences,” she said.

Despite the differences in nursing practices, Sutherland says that Chile and the U.S. are quite similar in terms of public health, and that her experiences so far have not changed her perspective on public health or how she views public health programs.

“Similar to the U.S., Chile is experiencing many of the same PH problems we are—obesity, smoking, and environmental threats (to name a few),” she said.

Still, only three weeks into her Fulbright Program, Sutherland has a lot she is hoping to to discover and learn. She, along with Ferrer and Lisette Irarrazabal, both of whom also study sexual and public health, has plans to study the health behaviors of Chilean college students, but these will have to wait for approval by PUC.

Sutherland’s research will hopefully provide insight on student health, something which could further academic exchange and the ideals of the Fulbright program itself.

Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor