Notes from a Nursing Student in Guatemala During the Pandemic By: Monserrat Dieguez


nursing student

I truly do believe that this pandemic has brought the best and the worst of every human.  The way education changed from one moment to the next has been surreal. And, it has  affected students worldwide. My name is Monserrat Dieguez. I am 35 years old and currently a second-year nursing student in Guatemala City, Guatemala. I had dreamt about the moment that I could go into nursing school and wear my uniform proudly wherever I went. Well, that did not last very long. On March 13, 2020, while I was finishing my first chemistry midterm, we were being informed Guatemala will most likely close down, and
some hours later the president made it official.
In that moment, everything that we knew as normal changed.
I was in my first semester and there were 24 students in my class. My school program is
set up for people that work during weekdays, so we have school on Friday afternoon
and the whole day on Saturday.
My school has a really cool online platform, but then I started to notice that my
professors and classmates were really struggling with the whole online thing.
My professors were very frustrated because their internet speed at home was slow.
My classmates’ struggle was with the lack of knowledge of basic computer skills. In fact,
most of them did not had a computer, only a cellphone.
As the weeks went by, I had fewer classmates login or they just stopped caring. But let
me give you a bit of context, I am one of the few citizens in my country that has been
privileged to get a full education. My mom got me to take English courses at the age of 8.

I have a steady income working as an interpreter for a mission organization and as a
phone interpreter for a company in the US from home.
Guatemala has experienced economic stability due to a combination of prudent fiscal
management, inflation targeting, and a managed floating exchange rate. The
Guatemalan economy, the largest in Central America, has also had a solid
performance, although with moderate growth rates of 3.5 % on average in the last five
This economic stability, however, has not translated to a significant reduction in poverty
and inequality. Measured by its GDP per capita (US$ 4,549 in 2018), Guatemala is the
fifth poorest economy in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), with persistently high
rates of poverty and inequality.
Guatemala also has the sixth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world and the
highest in LAC. Chronic childhood malnutrition (and stunting) affects 47% of all children
under the age of five, 58% of indigenous children, and 66% of children in the lowest
income quintile.
In 2019, Guatemala ranked 68th in food security out of 113 countries, with only 40% of
Guatemalan families enjoying food security.
And education wise, only 8% of the population have university degrees.
It’s important to keep in mind that these statistics are before the COVID-19 pandemic–I
don’t think that the numbers will get any better.
By the time we made it to the second semester, we were left with 14 classmates out of
the 24 people originally in the program.
Most of my professors are doctors and nurses. It was obvious how tired they were since
our health system is complete disrepair. There was no way the system was equipped to
handle a pandemic, no country was, but Guatemala was definitely NOT. But, when my
professors saw the need for healing, none of them hesitated, yet they still had the
commitment with us as their students.
It has been hard and even I with my privileges, a good computer, speedy internet, and
steady income for me and my family, there some days were it just gets so frustrating
because no matter how many advantages you have to complete your assignments, it
still feels like there is something that I haven’t done.
My classmates some feel even worse, and I see them struggle.
This semester we are down to 11 students.

For my statistics final semester project, we are doing research on the state of mental
health in university students in Guatemala City. Sadly, we don’t have the resources to
do it in the whole country.
We surveyed 74 students on their experience in college during the pandemic. These
were the results:

1. Do you think that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your performance as a

nursing student2

78.4% yes
21.6% no

2. Out of the following, what frustrates you the most?

nursing student321.6% – Lack of teaching resourses from the professors when giving classes

36.5% – Stress for overload of homework
41.9% – Feeling as though they are unable to learn

3. Do you currently study and work, or only study?

nursing student4

48.6% – Studying and working
51.4% – Only studying

These poll was answered by university students age 17-49

nursing student5

nursing student6

35.1% female and 64.9% male

This last graph really stands out to me. A common situation worldwide, women will
always have less opportunity to get higher education, and once again shows me how
privileged that I am.
These polls do not show the different ethnicities that my country has, since the study
was completed in Guatemala City where few ethnic Mayans live, but even so, I would
say that it’s unlikely that we would even be able to find or do a poll of ethnic Mayan
experience in college during the pandemic because the Mayan communities have
always been brushed aside, education-wise, as only two out of ten Mayan children will
get to finish elementary school.
Now what’s good has the pandemic has brought, you might ask? As a student of health,
I know that this is my tribe. No matter what comes our way, we have stuck together, and
without hesitating, nurses worldwide step up and went beyond their normal practice to
With all my privileges, I can truly make a difference in my country, not by myself of
course, but with the help of other nurses. Nothing separates us, whether from the US or
Guatemala, with different skin colors, languages, cultures, and levels of education, none
of this keep us from the love and caring that is nursing.