What Nursing Abroad Taught Me About Staying Closer to Home

October 14, 2019

What Nursing Abroad Taught Me About Staying Closer to Home
When I decided to become a nurse, I did so with the intention to practice my profession in a mission field. By the time I completed my nursing education, I had been on two short-term mission trips to foreign countries. These opportunities have shaped my calling as a nurse, cementing my desire to work with those who are experiencing life in the direst of circumstances. They also showed me the productive connection nurses can have within their community.

After I graduated from nursing school, my husband and I had the opportunity to move to and work in El Salvador. At the time, the country was rebuilding from a devastating earthquake. Temporary and inadequate housing had been erected for many of the country’s inhabitants, but as time passed, the temporary housing became permanent for many people. Poor sanitary conditions plagued these communities and caused many illnesses.  
 
I worked alongside a Salvadoran doctor named Dr. Boris within these communities. We operated weekly clinics where we tended to the needs of the sick and provided education that helped many make the best of their circumstances. Working with Dr. Boris had a significant impact on my understanding of what it means to be a nurse. He tended to the needs of his community through health education, advocacy and medical expertise. But he also joked with the children using words and phrases I'd never heard while I was learning Spanish. I quickly realized that I didn’t recognize the Spanish because he was speaking with words and idioms spoken specifically in their community, not in the traditional Spanish taught in U.S. schools.

These observations showed me the positive impact you could make as a healthcare professional working not as an outsider, but as a part of their own community. After seeing this, I asked Dr. Boris to teach me their words, phrases and customs so I could better relate to those I worked with.

The biggest thing I learned from being a nurse in El Salvador was the power of relatability and human connection. It's one thing to go into a community, country or hospital and provide care for the sick. It's another thing altogether to meet our patients where they are, learn how to communicate with them in a way they understand, and use that ability to extend our care on a more human level. I am thankful for my experiences working in other countries because it showed me a nurse can make just as big difference at home in a familiar community as he or she can abroad.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.

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