Today we spent the morning at the Colegio de Profesionales de la Enfermera, an organization for nurses in PR similar to the American Nursing Association, learning about nursing and the state of health care in Puerto Rico. In order to practice as an RN, nurses here must have a college degree in nursing as well as membership in this professional association. The director of the Colegio, Juan Carlos, told us that a recent Puerto Rican law decreased the number of sick and vacation days for all workers, and increased their probation time before becoming permanent employees. Juan Carlos also told us that in recent decades, Puerto Rico has seen a “brain drain” of its workforce to the continental U.S., including the departure of nurses. The Colegio is hard at work advocating for better pay and working conditions for its members.
Juan Carlos ended his talk with a quote in Spanish from Florence Nightingale that referred to nursing as “un llamado superior,” a higher calling.
After another yummy Mofongo meal for lunch, we traveled to a local hospital where a very special organization – PITIRRE – is headquartered.
I’ll let one of our team members, Tara Noorani, take it from here:
“My admiration for nurses was born from an exposure to street medicine. Their ability to address the entirety of the person was something displayed during each client interaction.
Wednesday (March 8th) began at PITIRRE de Iniciativa Comunitaria, an addiction treatment program offering healthcare, education and prevention services to homeless and HIV-positive clients. The pitirre is a bird found in Puerto Rico weighing nearly 1.5 ounces and personifying somewhat of a powerful underdog. El pitirre serves as a symbol of hope and resilience in the face of adversity. The staff at PITIRRE emphasized the bond between ourselves and our fellow human – the tie between providers and clients. They encouraged us to understand our intersection as brothers and sisters and the power in our collaboration with one another.
With this lesson in mind, we began our night by making sandwiches with members of Operacion Compasion de Iniciativa Comunitaria, a mobile clinic project rooted in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. We assembled hygiene kits, brewed gallons of coffee, and collected juice boxes, medications and wound care supplies into their mobile clinic truck. From 10pm to 3am, we combed the streets, in search of possible clients.
Led by two of the most humble leaders of Operacion Compasion, we treated a total of 38 clients and performed wound care on 6 of these people. We offered blood pressure screenings, glucose checks, coffee, juice and sandwiches. We witnessed the isolation a person endures in the street and how the label “homeless” overlooks their humanity. Inevitably this manifests into a marginalized community drowning in stereotypes and misconceptions.
When I reflect on this experience, I’m reminded of the importance of being present with those who suffer. The nature of homelessness obscures the client’s voice and visibility. By meeting these people where they are, we are choosing to resist the poverty and injustice of their circumstances. As student nurses, we have an obligation to uphold the individuality and autonomy of each client and oppose the forces impeding their access to care.
As Emory students, it is a privilege to serve the people of Puerto Rico, a pleasure to have been enriched by their culture and an honor to advocate for their health care needs.”