Now that we are back in Atlanta and South Georgia once again seems very far away, I have had some time to reflect on this experience and what it has meant to me. The experience was so incredible in so many ways that is hard for me to pinpoint exactly how it has changed me… and yet I know that I look at the world differently than I did six weeks ago.
Before the Moultrie experience, the migrant farm worker population was not one that I had ever really considered before. Like most people, I hadn’t ever really stopped to think about who picked the fruits and vegetables that I ate. I had never considered what their life might be like or the challenges they face. Now I can’t stop thinking about it. When I was at the grocery store the other day looking through the produce I found myself wondering who had picked it…. Did they have a family? When was the last time they saw a doctor? Did they have macerated feet and a tiny flap skin encroaching on their eyesight? It makes me feel both proud to have served these people, however briefly, as well as helpless. Although I know that the work we did in South Georgia benefited the farm workers that we saw, the whole operation sort of feels like putting a bandaid on an artery. I sometimes wonder if the people we saw with hypertension will ever get medication for it or if they even have the means to make the lifestyle changes that we suggested. It’s so heartbreaking to think about the children that we saw in the schools, so full of energy and potential, may end up dropping out of high school to work in the fields just like their parents. This population faces so many challenges, which are only increasing in the current political environment and sometimes the scale of the problems just seems way too big to even conceive of a solution. I know that as nurses it is our job to care for individuals, but in a setting like this, the inadequacy of the whole system can be very frustrating. I guess that is the constant struggle of the public health nurse… which brings me to the other great impact that this experience has left on me.
Ever since I started nursing school I have been doing hospital clinical rotations and I know that as a nurse you are supposed to be excited about working in a hospital but I was not. Ever. Hospitals are not where I fit; they are not where I feel that I make a difference or where my skills are best used. Although I knew that there were other options out there, I didn’t really know what being a community health nurse would look like. Being able to work in a community setting with a vulnerable population has really renewed my faith in nursing and has confirmed for me that I am definitely in the right place. This is the kind of nursing that I want to do, I just felt like it fit! I am so encouraged about having such a great first experience with public health nursing and I know that it is where I am meant to be.