“I loved it!”
Kathy Ray, a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, spent two weeks volunteering in the rural public health clinic in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. The learning experience was invaluable. She developed what will be, she is certain, lifelong professional relationships with local nurses and doctors. She improved her Spanish language skills and she developed a greater appreciation for Mexico.
The village has one of the better-equipped clinics in the region and many patients from smaller villages are referred there for their primary care. Because of that, the patient census on a given day can be high. The clinic has two general practitioners, a pediatrician, a psychologist, social worker, nurses and a dentist assigned for patient care. It serves 8,000 village residents plus people from more remote rural villages. They welcomed Kathy Ray with open arms.
Kathy loved living in the village and volunteering there. “It was the first time in my life I have been on my own,” she said. “I got married young and started raising children when I was 22 years old.” She had never been out of the U.S. before.
What Kathy Ray was able to accomplish in two short weeks
She started a fun Brazilian exercise program, called capoeira, for teens and pre-teens held in the central plaza in front of the church. The exercises incorporate music, games, dance, acrobatics, and martial arts (it is non-violent, she explains). The children loved it, and she got several repeat participants. (You can see examples on YouTube.) Pre-teens and teens everywhere are at risk for early onset diabetes and fun exercise helps overcome the risks.
Kathy gave rubella, DPT, and hepatitis-B vaccinations to children and adults, and shadowed the ob-gyn doctor. She learned hands-on techniques, and also shared ways that Carolina nurses are taught to give emotional caring and support to patients who are in medical crisis.
“The nurses and doctors are all very professional. I was able to shadow the nurse who was in charge of vaccinations and the OB-GYN doctor who cared for pregnant women. I learned the techniques for vaccinating infants, children and teens, and learned to read ultrasounds to identify gender. It was great.”
Kathy is a mature and wise 39 year-old mother of teenagers. This gave her the ability and perspective to become a peer professional.
She shared her perspectives about needed safety education materials
Even in the two short weeks that Kathy volunteered, she knows she made a difference. She recommended that the clinic publish educational pamphlets for parents about unintentional accidents, including how parents can protect their children by encouraging the use of helmets, seatbelts, and to not to ride in the back of pick-up trucks (how many accidents happen). Kathy saw she could influence and encourage safety education by reinforcing the message that “it only takes one person to make a difference.”
Kathy and I spent over an hour together in my office while she recounted her experiences during her two-week stay with a local family. She has written about living in Teotitlan del Valle and being a volunteer nursing student on her blog: http://onceuponatimeinoaxaca.blogspot.com/
She has posted photos there, too.
Placing student nurses between their junior and senior years
For me, it has been such a delight to place nursing students in Oaxaca as part of a global study experience. It has been four years since I started this program with the help of Federico Chavez Sosa. And, it is beneficial for students to be volunteering in Mexico since many of our immigrants are from Spanish-speaking countries. Teotitlan is perfect because it is safe, small, welcoming and we have a network of relationships there. The village health professionals receive the benefit of smart, educated and dedicated nursing students to help.
“I was excited, but also nervous about going to Mexico on my own. It turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. The relationships I developed will be life-long. I loved the beautiful scenery, the visual imagery, the rolling farmland surrounded by mountains. And, I walked everywhere.”
“And, of course, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator was my bible.”
How did Kathy manage on a strict student budget?
She bought pre-cooked food at the local market, purchased prepared yogurt mixed with fresh fruit, cooked beans, rice, red pepper, and choyote squash in the house she was staying where she had kitchen privileges. She drank the purified water and didn’t brush her teeth with tap water! She didn’t get sick 🙂
“Every day, someone would come to the clinic with a frozen milky drink flavored with cinnamon (horchata) that we would all buy for 40 cents each. That was a highlight of my day,” Kathy remembered with a smile.
Kathy will receive university credit for this experience after she writes and submits a paper under the guidelines of the global study program at the school of nursing.
Norma Hawthorne works with accredited schools of nursing to place talented student volunteers for two- to six-weeks in public health clinics in Oaxaca. If you would like to discuss this opportunity for summer 2012, please contact me. (The relationship must be with the university/college rather than with individual students.)