NMSU branding

New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center

Nursing professor studies health care techniques of Mexico

Nurses in rural Mexico have more freedom than their American counterparts in diagnosing and treating patients. But, according to a New Mexico State University nursing professor, their patients are still holding on to long-standing traditions that make health care rather difficult.

Wendell Oderkirk stands outside the School of Nursing and Obstetrics in Celaya, Mexico, in this fall 1999 photo. (NMSU courtesy photo)

Wendell Oderkirk, a Fulbright Senior Scholar Grant recipient for the 1999-2000 academic year, worked from September through November 1999 at Mexico's University of Guanajuato, Celaya School of Nursing, where he taught and researched the Self-Care Deficit Nursing Theory. As part of his research, Oderkirk had the opportunity to work with health care professionals in some colonias in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico.

According to the Self-Care Deficit Nursing Theory, developed by Dorothea Orem in 1971, nearly all adults have basic self-care behaviors from simply getting out of bed in the morning to feeding themselves. But "if there's some way a person isn't able to function, then there's a need for a nurse," said Oderkirk, who has studied the theory and its implications in the United States and rural Mexico.

Simply put, the theory says the purpose of nursing is to provide care and help the client attain self-care. The theory's primary question asks what health conditions require the services of a skilled nurse.

According to Oderkirk, there are three broad theories of nursing where nurses treat patients either one-on-one, as a family or as a community. Orem's self-care theory is primarily one-on-one, which makes it well-adapted to long-term nursing facilities, he said.

"The Mexican federal government recently mandated that patients need to become responsible for their own health care," Oderkirk said. The mandate has prompted Mexico's health care system to prepare patients for self-care.

Oderkirk said the common practice in rural Mexico is to keep patients from having to seek medical help in far-off clinics or treatment centers. To do that, nurses in rural Mexico visit patients' homes, where they survey living conditions and take notes of health problems. The nurses then make suggestions on how to improve health conditions and give a health diagnosis. In the United States, nurses cannot give a diagnosis.

"Self nursing is a way of educating people in their own home and improving the patients' self-care capacities," Oderkirk said, adding that Orem's theory is based on the concept that health care behaviors are learned.

In Mexico most people have national health insurance coverage. But the government in Mexico is encouraging its residents to take better care of themselves and rely less on health care providers.

Oderkirk said many health care professionals believed the theory wouldn't work in rural Mexico because patients there are traditionally very passive when they enter the health care system. "We don't think the self-care theory will work right away. It will take some time for many of the country's residents to warm up to the idea."

Today in the United States, the patient is responsible for his or her own health. "But that wasn't the case in the U.S. in the 1950s and that's not the case in Mexico today. It's similar to eastern Russia, where patients are very passive. They come to the treatment centers to be taken care of," Oderkirk said. Oderkirk spent a couple of weeks in 1994 studying Russia's rural health care system in Siberia.

Oderkirk said he's hoping to exchange ideas and different approaches on health care in the United States and Mexico by bringing students or faculty members from the University of Guanajuato to NMSU, and taking NMSU students to Mexico.;; Oderkirk received his Ph.D. in nursing in 1987 from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. At NMSU he teaches community health and a graduate course in nursing theory.

Oderkirk was one of three NMSU Fulbright scholars in 1999- 2000. The other two were Joseph Benson, a management professor in NMSU's College of Business Administration and Economics, and Charles Townley, a library professor and former dean of the NMSU library.

The Fulbright program is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and those in other countries. The program, established in 1946, is recognized as the flagship program for international education exchanges.

Photo is available at
For a print, call (505) 646-3221.
PHOTO: Oderkirk_Wendell.jpg
CUTLINE: Wendell Oderkirk stands outside the School of Nursing and Obstetrics in Celaya, Mexico, in this fall 1999 photo. (NMSU courtesy photo)

Dan Trujillo
May 9, 2000