How One Nurse Expanded Her Global Health Knowledge and Made an Impact with FIMRCMay 06, 2020
FIMRC has many programs for nurses and other healthcare professionals who want to expand their global health knowledge. Our Virtual Volunteer Programs offer flexible and comprehensive experiences that will make you feel like you are on-site! Your experience can be just like Kaylie Gerry’s, who completed a five-month internship at Project Bududa, Uganda earlier this year. A recent nursing school graduate from the University of Rhode Island, Kaylie was seeking to expand her global health and international nursing skills, leading her to FIMRC’s internship program. Read on to learn about Kaylie’s experience in Uganda and how her time there will continue to influence her nursing career.
During nursing school at the University of Rhode Island, I was lucky enough to travel to Haiti and Indonesia, which provided me with a small glimpse of how different healthcare systems operate around the world. These two experiences revealed my true “calling” (as cliché as it sounds) and where I would eventually find purpose and meaning in my life: global health. At this point, I knew I wanted to expand my nursing career on an international level after graduation, and I knew I wanted to gain valuable skills and knowledge of diverse healthcare systems by traveling to different parts of the world. While doing this, I had hoped to develop relationships and connections with the people I met. I wanted to learn about their lives and cultures, but most importantly, I wanted to learn from these people.
I first discovered FIMRC in 2017 when my neighbor told me about her volunteer trips to Ecuador and the Dominican Republic, developing sustainable water supplies with her engineering school. At the time, I was conducting extensive research on different organizations that would allow me to volunteer as a nurse post-graduation, but I had difficulty finding one that aligned with my interests and values. I began to look deeper into FIMRC and briefly corresponded with some of its headquarters staff in Philadelphia. I quickly realized that this organization was basically everything I was searching for: a nonprofit with values focused on improving access to healthcare for those who are medically underserved. This resonated with me deeply; I believe healthcare should be accessible to all. It should not be a privilege, available to those who have the financial means to afford it. Healthcare, I believe, is a human right. Along with increasing access to healthcare, FIMRC also places a large emphasis on sustainability, which I think is crucial when practicing global health. Their goal is to implement knowledge and practices that will be sustainable in the community and will continue to exist long after you have finished volunteering.
About four months before graduation, I applied to FIMRC’s Internship program. After a series of applications and phone call interviews, I was accepted and placed at Project Bududa in eastern Uganda, which also happens to be FIMRC’s largest operating clinic. I graduated in May 2019, received my nursing license in August, and in September, I departed for my five-month long internship in Uganda!
Truthfully, I don’t believe there are enough words in the English language that would fully encapsulate this experience at Project Bududa, but I will say that the five months I spent in Bududa were the happiest, most rewarding, and challenging months of my life. Taking this internship post-graduation was one of the best decisions I’ve made.
The minute I arrived in Bududa, I was welcomed by an overwhelming sense of community. The staff at FIMRC’s Project Bududa site are some of the most vibrant and intelligent people I have ever met, and they eventually became like family to me.
On clinic days (Monday-Friday) I would leave the guesthouse around 8:15 a.m. to arrive at the clinic by 9 a.m. sharp. My morning walk was filled with absolutely stunning views of the surrounding mountains that comprise Mt. Elgon. Once arrived at, I would greet each staff member with an enthusiastic handshake and “good morning!”
The number of patients seen at the clinic was dependent on the day of the week, but we could see anywhere between 40 and 160 patients each day. As a nurse, I had the flexibility to rotate stations at the clinic, allowing me to observe each individual aspect of Bududa’s clinic. There is a vital signs station, a consult and examination room, a treatment room where patients receive any STAT medications or IV fluids, a laboratory that tests for HIV, malaria, and any urine abnormalities, and a pharmacy where patients receive their prescribed medications.
Day-to-day, I tended to spend the majority of my time consulting patients with Esther, the physician’s assistant on-site. Consulting and assessing patients with Esther was probably my favorite part of clinic days because I could interact first-hand with the community and I gained valuable insight into diseases and conditions like malaria, HIV, and skin diseases/infections. I even assisted with live births! The unique patient population and disease prevalence definitely expanded my clinical skills and assessment tools as a nurse.
I was also eager to begin my internship project. Part of FIMRC’s internship program is to create a unique, sustainable project based on the community and clinic’s needs. The prospect of using my prior nursing background and knowledge, and applying it to Bududa’s community excited me. After about six weeks of being on-site, I decided I was going to focus the remainder of my time on creating updated, comprehensive profiles for 31 members of a well-established FIMRC program. The group in Bududa consists of children living with HIV, ranging from 10 months to 20 years of age. These children have lost either one or both parents to HIV or are deemed vulnerable due to a lack of support and guidance.
This group FIMRC has created is one of my favorite programs at Bududa’s clinic. Once a month, Musa conducts a meeting for these children to gather and have a safe place to learn, play, and interact with each other. Health education topics are taught such as the importance of personal hygiene, medication adherence, and even adolescent growth and changes. After attending five monthly meetings, I got to know each child on a more personal and intimate level. They have become so special to me! It is evident how much Musa and the rest of FIMRC’s staff care deeply about this group of children’s future and well-being. During times of intense discrimination and stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in Bududa, many of the children were verbally tortured and shunned by their community. Children at school would resist playing with them out of misguided fears they could contract HIV. To help combat stigma, FIMRC offers HIV/AIDS education to all of Bududa’s local schools. This initiative proved to be extremely effective and was received well by the community, making huge strides to create lasting change.
I conducted home visits for each of the 31 children in the group. I was accompanied by two local staff members, Silage and Robinah, who would act as my translators during the interview process. I am so thankful for their patience and support in helping me through all of my work! The goal for conducting interviews was to gather data on each member’s personal and medical history and current living situation. Basically, I wanted to understand how they contracted HIV, if their parents were alive, and what their current living situation was like. Other pertinent questions included their performance in school, if the child had received any recent discrimination in school, history of opportunistic infections such as pneumonia or TB, and how the child’s state of health was currently. Once this data was gathered, I created extensive documentation for each child’s profile, which included past/current medical history and a psychosocial assessment. The goal of creating profiles was to develop an organized, meticulous document for the site records. Once these profiles were established, the specific needs of each child were more evident, and if a child appeared to be at risk of neglect, malnutrition, or non-adherence to medication. FIMRC staff members would evaluate this information immediately, and create solutions. The children’s caretakers (parents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, etc.) were also evaluated and given extensive education about how to care for a child living with HIV during an emergent situation such as dehydration, excessive vomiting/diarrhea, pneumonia, TB, or meningitis.
The final product of my project increased community-wide education and also created a more organized platform to closely monitor each child’s health and well-being. I am so thankful I chose to focus my project on these children, as I found so much purpose in creating these profiles and learning about each child on such a personal level. I was able to visit 31 different homes around the community to develop a more keen understanding of their home and personal life, and during each visit, I was welcomed warmly by each family. The majority of my project involved assessments, evaluations, and documentation, which are essential skills to possess as a nurse, and I truly loved every minute of it.
If you are pursuing a career in healthcare, have an interest in global health, and would like to gain valuable knowledge and skills, I urge you to consider volunteering with FIMRC. You will become a part of the community, develop personal connections with each staff member, and you will leave this experience with a new set of knowledge and perspective of the world. Take the leap of faith into this opportunity. I promise you will not regret this decision!
Interested in volunteering abroad or participating in our virtual programs? Check them out below!
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