On March 26, 2011, a group of 9 undergraduate students, 3 faculty members, 6 Nurse Practitioners (NPs), NP students, and I left Boston for a community nursing service trip to Haiti. We started preparing for the trip in fall of 2010 and were supposed to go in January, but due to political unrest in Haiti the journey was postponed until March.
As we went from the Port-au-Prince airport to our guesthouse in Leogane, our eyes were met with the most heart-wrenching sights: tent cities lined many streets, and there were big piles of rubble in place of residential houses. Those living conditions caused me to start thinking about the town residents’ health, and the mere thought made me dread working at our stationed clinic the following day. However, when I arrived at the clinics I found that many of our patients presented treatable conditions which had never been diagnosed or treated but they all displayed resilience.
During our five clinical days, I learned many things about the healthcare system and how people perceived healthcare. The patients’ main concern was to be seen by a provider. Some even stood in the sun when necessary and waited until it was their turn to be seen. Because the patients in Haiti struggle with the scarcity and affordability of healthcare providers, they learn to be patient and grateful when they have the opportunity to meet with a provider.
During the week, I had the opportunity to refresh certain nursing skills such as manual blood pressures and learn new ones such as malaria and pregnancy testing. I was also fortunate to experience float nursing as I helped with every aspect of the work, from triage to pharmacy to dental assistant. In a way, my experience was a synthesis of nursing. I had patients from 8 months old to 93 years old, pregnant women, patients with 4 different medical conditions and some with only a headache. In the middle of the week, I had the opportunity to work as an interpreter for one of the NPs. This was a great experience because I was conducting the patient’s assessment while translating. Also, I learned from the NP how to direct the interview, analyze the information, formulate a diagnosis, and decide which medications to prescribe.
This inclusive experience reinforced my decision about my future nursing specialty. Since my first day in the community health lecture, I knew I wanted to work in community nursing. After this trip, I know that no matter how my nursing career starts, I will be a community nurse with a focus on global health. This trip has opened my eyes to a world of possibilities and has reinforced my desire to be part of the change to close the gap in global health disparities. There is much to be done in countries like Haiti where people do not receive the necessary care, because they cannot afford it or in some cases the care is simply not accessible to them. Although week-long trips are barely sufficient, it is a start to make everyone in the nursing field aware of the healthcare needs worldwide and to foster reforms.