October 3, 2014

Nursing Students Join Medical Mission

Kelsey Selfridge with patient.
Kelsey Selfridge with patient.

They shared space with scorpions, saw patient after patient suffering from the diseases of poverty and worked as long as 10 or 11 hours per day to help Central American people in need of medical assistance.

Five Western Nevada College nursing students and nursing faculty member Elizabeth Cordero experienced a medical mission last spring in villages surrounding Yoro, Honduras, that expanded their perspectives of medicine and gave them confidence to diagnose and treat patients with ailments they might not come across in the United States.

“They were blown away by the experience and gained so much maturity during the trip. They were able to look past themselves and their own needs and reach out to others who have very little in their lives,” Cordero said. “What an amazing opportunity for students to have the chance to practice skills and look at nursing from a global perspective, instead of just Northern Nevada. It will impact their nursing careers just having this experience.”

Dr. Judith Cordia, WNC’s director of Nursing and Allied Health Department, heralded the trip as a unique opportunity for the five nursing students to work as team members while adjusting to the adjusting to the adversity surrounding them.

“The fortunate five students, who enrolled in the special topics course Honduras, were immersed in a culture for 10 days, which was characterized by extreme poverty in most areas of living, including threats to safety, lack of access to clean water, nutritious food, sanitation and medical and nursing care,” Cordia said.

She said the mission provided the students with a better understanding of nursing care and how it applies to different cultures.

“Students participating in the course shared in learning experiences that will have a lifelong effect on how they view patients and families,” Cordia said. “Perhaps the most significant learning shared by the five students is the necessity to understand and design nursing care based on the culture of any person who is under their care as a nurse. To practice nursing today without taking culture into consideration is to deny them the positive and necessary experiences that holistic nursing care provides.”

Second-year WNC nursing students Amber Johns, Amanda Freeman, Kelsey Selfridge, Lisa Duncan and Carol Apodaca treated more than 2,000 patients during their 10-day visit to a one-street town in the mountains of northern Honduras.

Before the students’ grassroots nursing project became a reality, Cordero conferred with Cordia to make the mission part of the curriculum. They decided that the trip would be offered through Selected Topics in Allied Health, a two-unit Nursing 285 class.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to share this type of nursing with the students,” Cordero said. “I’m grateful to Dr. Cordia and (WNC Vice President and General Counsel) Mark Ghan for putting everything together from a legal standpoint and the staff. Everyone on the faculty worked as a team so the students were able to go on this trip and wouldn’t miss finals and projects, and were able to meet requirements for graduation.”

They joined 36 other service-minded people who made the journey to Central America as part of a Church Family Missions project. In addition to Cordero’s medical team, groups assisted villagers with their dental and construction needs. Beyond Partnership eased the logistical challenges of the 10-day trip by arranging travel, documentation, lodging, meals and translators.

The harsh realities of the trip’s destination didn’t scare away the five students.

“The students knew that the housing would not be of high quality, that they were gong to an extremely poor area, that there was heat and bugs. They were up to the challenge,” Cordero said.

They were also responsible for paying their own way to and from Yoro, which amounted to $1,800 per student.

After landing near the Honduras-Guatemala border, the students and the rest of the Church Family Missions contingent bussed five hours to Yoro. They soon realized how much their services were in demand.

The nursing students quickly learned adaptability, setting up a fully operational clinic in 20 minutes, arranging the equipment in dusty rooms that were home to a few scorpions. The diligent crew saw every patient that lined up for medical treatment in the five villages they visited, operating from 8 am. to as late as 7 p.m.

Many of the patients who the students treated suffered stomach ailments caused by parasites and bacteria in the water they consumed daily. There also were many cases of skin rashes.

“There were a lot of complaints of headaches,” Cordero said. “It’s a hot and humid environment, and a lot of these people are working under direct sunlight for 12 to 14 hours a day. They don’t drink enough water.

“They learned how to do a lot with very little. Different problems arise and you do best you can at that moment.”

Cordero said the students embraced the investigative part of their daily work, “knowing what questions to ask and knowing the primary problem. They got to see the person as a whole person and this is what we can do to help them with their ailment.”

As the students become busy in their own medical careers, Cordero said they will appreciate that they were able to do something many doctors and nurses haven’t been able to experience.

“For a lot of doctors and nurses, the gift of service is in their hearts, but that opportunity doesn’t come up,” Cordero said.

Cordero said the mission will again be offered to nursing students next spring. Plans are to take as many as seven students in either a return trip to Yoro or to Bluefields on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.

Cordia said WNC’s nursing faculty believes that today’s nursing students welcome opportunities to serve those in need. More than 60 percent of second-year students have expressed a strong interest in participating in the medical mission experience in the spring of 2015.

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