Nursing Instructor Ariana Gross is packing her bags and getting ready to squeeze in a trip to the Caribbean just a few weeks before the fall term begins at the University of Central Florida.

But Gross’s trip doesn’t include snorkeling among tropical fish or island hopping. She’s headed for a small, rural community in the Dominican Republic where she and a group of physicians, nurses and medical and nursing students from UCF will be providing basic medical care and health education to an entire community.

“Our goal is to establish sustainable programs that can help the community there,” Gross said.

UCF is working with the Universidad Católica Nordestana (UCNE) in the Duarte province. The medical mission is part of an ongoing relationship the UCF College of Medicine established with the island. Medical students, led by UCF’s Dr. Judith Simms-Cendan set up health clinics during a trip in December 2011 that laid the groundwork for the July 28 mission. This is the second trip where medical and nursing students will work together.

Gross, who has been teaching nursing courses at UCF’s Daytona campus since 2008, said medical missions run by schools are just an extension of the duty medical professionals have to serve their communities, here and abroad.

“I think it is our duty to help those who have less resources,” Gross said. “And really, our students get so much out of it, which really benefits the community here. There, students have to rely on their knowledge and the skills we’re teaching them and less on the technology so readily available here.”

The nursing and medical students will work with local doctors in the province to figure out how they take care of patients without convenient technology taken for granted in the United States.

“That really benefits our students because when they return they are better at assessing patients and they are better at listening to their patients,” Gross said.

That’s one reason Daytona resident and UCF nursing student Leah White is joining the team, along with another nursing student and assistant professor from UCF’s Orlando campus.

“I have gone on mission trips before and wanted to go on this trip because I will be able to use what I have learned thus far in the nursing program,” White said. “I think that I will grow as a person and a nurse.”

And she expects to pay-it-forward by continuing her service-learning-projects.

Service-learning projects are part of the nursing curriculum. Student nurses are required to provide their community with a service in the first and final semesters of the nursing program, Gross said.

Her students, including White, have been conducting health prevention home visits and health fairs in public housing located in Bunnell for the past few years as part of the service-learning programs sponsored by the College of Nursing.

“I think the mission will do a lot of good for the students involved and for our community when we return,” Gross said. “That’s why I’m happy to go work on my vacation.”

UCF has offered its nursing program on the Daytona campus for nearly 30 years. In the early 80’s, a B.S.N. completion program was initiated for registered nurses, and in 2006, UCF began its pre-licensure Basic B.S.N. program. Currently, the R.N. to B.S.N. program has more than 100 students who reside in Volusia or Flagler counties, with capacity for more. Additionally, the college has about 70 students enrolled in the Daytona Basic B.S.N. program.

The college has established a Global Health Education Fund to support this and future medical mission trips. To make a tax-deductible donation, contact Katie Korkosz at 407.823.1600 or