Medical mission trip enlightens nursing students

by Page Wise, BSN Class of May '18
Never in my life have I committed so impulsively to traveling to a foreign country as I did this past July. Cameron Mercer, my good friend and classmate, told me that I needed to go with her on a medical mission trip to Nicaragua over our Christmas break. I honestly cannot remember a holiday season when I was not working, so I fully intended on enjoying this rare break. But I am the type of person who gets restless when I do not have anything to do, and with nearly a month of downtime, I mulled it over, came to a decision, and told myself, “Just go!” This trip was the perfect opportunity to combine my passion for health and wellness with my desire to connect with and help those in need. 
Anxious to put my medical training and education to work in a place that needed it, I researched areas of the world that were limited in resources and lacked in quality health care.
I selected Nicaragua, the poorest country in Central America. With the mortality rate of Nicaraguan children at four times that of the U.S., quality health care is urgently needed to treat preventable diseases, such as pneumonia, diarrhea, and malnutrition. 
It was decided. Cameron and I were headed to Nicaragua for eight days. 
The purpose of the mission trip is to provide quality, accessible health care to rural Nicaraguan communities, and our timing could not have been better. In October 2017, a tropical storm caused a significant amount of damage to various Nicaraguan regions, including Rivas, the region in which we were staying. As a result of the flooding, rural communities suffered devastating loss and damage to their churches, homes, farmland, crops, and roads. Each day we set up our mobile healthcare clinic in different villages, expanding OneWorld Health’s reach.
Our stellar mission team was made up of 39 volunteers whose professions include but are not limited to: MDs, DNPs, PAs, OB-GYNs, RNs, pharmacists, dentists, hygienists, students, business managers, educators, sales representatives, photographers, videographers, etc. Everyone brought something unique to the table, and as a team, we complemented each other well. It was surprising how quickly we formed meaningful friendships and how easily we worked together. Once our team came together, we met our translation team and began working closely with them; we staffed multiple rural outreach clinics and successfully treated a variety of common medical conditions (i.e., joint pain/swelling, allergies, intestinal parasites, dental cleanings/extractions, prenatal care, etc.). 
Cameron and I were the only students in the nursing team, and we were excited about the opportunity to dive-in and independently triage patients, provide preventative primary care, as well as serve as pharmacy technicians. Having this chance to apply what we have learned and to challenge ourselves in a foreign country, reaffirmed the decision I made to go back to school and pursue a career in nursing. It was like a scene from a movie where life pauses and there is this moment of realization. I was becoming who I was meant to be, I was where I was supposed to be, and I was doing what I was meant to be doing. 
Even though the rural villages faced such loss in their community, they were so appreciative of our efforts, so much so that they were waiting outside the clinics to greet us in the mornings before we arrived, worked to unload medical supplies, helped set up our clinic layout, and assisted in breaking down at the end of the day. Not once did their faces break from smiles, nor did I hear any complaints about how long the wait was, the heat, no access to clean drinking water, or having to void in a hole in the ground with nothing but a bed sheet to provide some privacy.  
At the end of our first day, an 11-year-old girl walked into the church just as we were packing up the bus. She was holding hands with her 70-year-old blind grandfather as she guided him into the church. They had just walked five miles to see us. It filled their hearts with joy when we told them we would gladly see him. Our team came together seamlessly to ensure this gentleman was given the time and care he deserved. Unbeknownst to us, one of the providers went outside and managed to arrange a ride home for him on an oxen-cart. The next day, one of our nurses gave the shoes off her feet to a woman who needed them more. 
It was a privilege visiting these rural villages and being immersed in Nicaraguan culture, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to practice my Spanish with my patients, who were extremely patient and genuinely kind-hearted people. Being able to connect with, care for, and learn from our patients was a gift. I will be a better nurse because of it. In just four and half days, we treated about 1,000 patients!
Our last night I was walking back to my room, and I thought how amazing it was that even though we were working, from sun up to sun down, instead of feeling exhausted, I felt rejuvenated. Thirty-nine volunteers, ranging in age, culture, religion, race, ethnicity, and practices, traveled from all over the U.S. to come together so that we could attempt to do something amazing, and that is exactly what we did. I have never felt that kind of humanity before and it truly did awaken my soul.