As a Building Undergraduate Nursing’s Diverse Leadership at Emory Scholar (BUNDLES), I have been given many opportunities to be immersed in public health seminars, lectures, and value adds. This program prepared me for my alternative winter break trip to Nicaragua in December where I was able to serve a vulnerable population in need. I traveled to a city in Nicaragua called Rivas, where I rotated with my peers through their local public hospital. We learned how their health care system worked and how they cared for their patients.
In my first day in the hospital, I was humbled by how privileged we are in the United States when it comes to our health care system. I watched the nurses in Rivas use all the resources they had — which were not many, in order to give the best quality care to their patients. For example, the nurses used gloves as tourniquets, rather than protective personal equipment. They also used leftover medication vials as specimen collectors for urine and stool samples. I watched them perform these tasks and admired the depths they went to when caring for their patients.
The nurse to patient ratio was nearly 1:10 and the nurses worked hard to attend to each patient in a timely manner. With minimum resources available, the nurses shared blood pressure cuffs and thermometers. Unfortunately, the equipment was hardly ever sanitized between use as there was barely enough solutions to clean the equipment in the proper aseptic manner. Although this hospital suffered from a lack of resources, the nurses and health care providers always put their patients first and made sure that they received the best quality of care. They had the biggest hearts and were so eager to teach us with their knowledge and about their health care system. I appreciated their kindness and helped in any way I could.
We spent the first two days in Rivas at the local hospital. After that, we traveled to a small, rural community called El Tambo that invited us to educate them on health care in the United States. We decided to focus on screening and prevention of common diseases that had the highest incidence in their specific population.
We arrived that afternoon and I thought we were just making a stop on the side of the road when our bus suddenly pulled over. I was taken aback when I realized that we were actually in El Tambo. The homes were small shacks with no electricity or running water, however this was home to them and they would have it no other way. They greeted us all with kind smiles and were genuinely happy to have us in their community. They brought us to the local “church” which was just a pavilion with a small stage. We broke off into groups and each took turns presenting the screening material we prepared before the trip. My group focused on breast cancer self exams, because the community had asked us to teach them about breast cancer prevention. We educated them on the pathophysiology of cancer and then went on to show them how to properly perform a breast self exam. They demonstrated back on how to do the breast self exams themselves and we finished our presentation filling fulfilled that we had taught them something new that would benefit their health for the future.
The other groups presented on other common disease processes like diabetes and hypertension. The community and families were so grateful that we were there that they prepared us a homemade meal that was commonly made in their village. We were almost in tears from their generosity. They purified the water so we could drink it, and then they sat back and watched us eat, not even eating themselves.
This trip taught me a lot about the importance of public health, not only in the United States, but also in other countries. Primary and secondary prevention efforts are vital in keeping populations healthy wherever it may be in the world. I will take this experience and what I learned from it throughout my entire nursing career.
Ali Martin is a graduating BSN senior from Blue Ridge, Georgia. In addition to being a BUNDLE scholar, she is involved on campus in organizations such as Atlanta Pediatric Cancer Outreach and as a peer mentor for the School of Nursing.