Today began the real reason we came to beautiful Puerto Rico: to be in service to the community. We started the morning with a yummy breakfast of eggs and sausage that the wonderful staff at the local Salvation Army (where we’re staying) made for us. We then got to work on our health fair (or, in Spanish, La Feria de Salud).
Local residents from public housing came to the Salvation Army chapel where we had several tables set up: blood pressure checks, glucose checks, self-breast exam information, and smoking cessation. We split up into teams of two or three and about 30 people came. We (along with our Puerto Rican-native professor and our nurse practitioner professor) counseled people on lowering blood pressure and managing diabetes. Some realized they needed to go back to the doctor to adjust their medications, and others got advice on lifestyle modifications. We felt strongly that we made a difference in these people’s lives, and they expressed their gratitude. It was a lovely morning of health education and outreach!
During lunchtime, we were lucky enough to have a talk with Dr. Dana Thomas, a career epidemiology field officer with the CDC. She spoke with us about how Zika has affected Puerto Rico, and we were shocked to hear that an estimated 400,000 people have been infected with the virus. One important takeaway was that 75% of people infected with Zika are asymptomatic, so it can spread among people without their knowledge.
In the afternoon, we visited National University College, a private university system on the island that has a robust nursing program. We received a warm welcome complete with gift bags and hats, and were able to see how nursing students here learn — turns out, it’s quite similar to us! They have simulation rooms and clinicals. We even recognized some of the sim mannequins as the same ones we have at Emory.
We then had a discussion with some of the nursing students about life as a student and nurse in PR. They were extremely knowledgeable and friendly. We learned that it’s more difficult here than in the continental U.S. to get a job as a new nurse. In fact, many of the students were hoping to come to the states to work once they graduated. We also realized that nursing is a universal language — we were all in the profession for the same reasons — to be an advocate for our patients and to promote and heal. Some of their students were fresh out of high school and some were older and had families, just like our programs. No matter our backgrounds, we all could commiserate about how tough nursing school is. 🙂
Big thank you to the amazing staff and students at National University College in Caguas, Puerto Rico!