Boston Nursing Students Providing Care Abroad

Two students from our Boston Nursing program took a life changing trip to Morocco to provide care to people living in rural areas without access to health care. This is Rebecca Marion’s account of her time spent in Morocco:

The Volunteer Morocco team
The Volunteer Morocco team

In December 2014, I, along with fellow nursing student Alissa Mercer, embarked on a journey to Morocco that fundamentally changed the way we saw the world. We traveled across the Moroccan countryside setting up health clinics, providing medication, and distributing school supplies to children. Throughout our travels we familiarized ourselves with Moroccan culture and saw the beauty of life in rural Morocco.

Alissa and I were afforded this opportunity through a program called Volunteer Morocco. Founded in 2007 by Aziz El Madi, Volunteer Morocco was created as a means for Aziz to give back to his country. Morocco’s population consists of approximately 33 million people. Less than 30% have health insurance. While the government does provide aid, it only amounts to US $147 a person. There is also a shortage of healthcare professionals in Morocco averaging to one physician for every 1,600 members of the population. As a result, many Moroccans have not received any healthcare.

On our arrival, we started by examining our gear to make sure it all worked properly. Since Alissa and I were the only nursing students, we had to teach the other three students how to perform the blood glucose test, the O2 saturation test, and the HIV test. It was especially challenging to teach our peers how to use the HIV test because it was something we had never encountered before. However, because the instructions were only in English, it was our responsibility to learn the test procedure and teach it to everyone else.

On our second day, we loaded up numerous vehicles with the supplies, including multivitamins, antibiotics, gloves, gauze pads, rubbing alcohol, betadine, and various topical creams to help treat infections . Then we embarked on a five day mission. Our goal was to arrive at a different village each day- some hours apart from each other. We would set up the clinics, spend the night, and then leave for the next village in the morning. Often, we left very early in the morning in order to get to the next village with time to set up our gear. At these temporary health clinics (mostly in barely standing buildings, some with no roofs) we performed preventative testing such as blood pressure, blood glucose, pulse oximetry, and health assessments. Then we would spend all day treating the locals. One of the oldest patients I came into contact with was an 80 year old woman who had numerous children and was extremely healthy, but had never seen a doctor in her life. To be able to provide these people with care was an incomparable feeling.

Rebecca caring for a patient.

One particular situation that I will never forget happened at one of our rural health clinics. A young girl, approximately ten years old, came into the clinic looking very frightened. After getting her on a makeshift bed, we realized she had severe psoriasis and eczema on her feet, hands, and behind her left ear. The tissue on the bottom of both her feet was necrotic. We did not have enough supplies to treat her, so we had to use our own personal first aid kits to apply pads and wrap her feet in an ace bandage, which we cut into thirds. To treat someone with limited supplies takes courage and a great amount of creativity and critical thinking. Also, being able to comfort my patient with a language barrier was extremely challenging. All I could do was hold her and rub her head while the physician and pharmacist cleaned up the necrotic areas. Then I assisted with applying cream and wrapping her extremities. She knew that I was there to help her even though we couldn’t understand each other.

Alissa recounted to me an experience that touched her. “She was the same age as me (20 years old) and she had never been to a doctor before so she was really scared and worried about what would happen to her. Rebecca and I were communicating as best as we could.” We noticed her breathing was fast, labored and her blood pressure was extremely high so we wanted to try and calm her down. We hugged her numerous of times, which helped her anxiety go down and her breathing returned to normal. We said we were here for her and everything was going to be okay. We were so busy with patients we brought her back out and she waited to be seen by a female GYN doctor. She went in and then because we were so busy we didn’t see her come out and couldn’t find her. “For me, that was the first time I truly put my communication skills to the test. I have done medical work in the past but never had a hard time communicating because all of my patients spoke English. This is the main skill you need as a nurse. Along with all of the medical work we did, this is why we are striving to bring nursing students in on our experience to make them want to volunteer. I’ve never been out of the country and picking a trip like this for my first time was the best decision I have ever made.”

It was a lot of hard work but also one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives. Not only did we get to put into practice the skills we learned in NUR 215 Lab, but we gained more than you can imagine. Our confidence in our nursing skills improved, and we all know that without confidence your patient will not have trust in you. We cultivated our leadership skills and gained an extensive global perspective that prepared us and will only benefit us as future RNs. Even though I have traveled many times abroad, for personal reasons as well as medical service trips, this trip ignited a fire in my heart. I never wanted to leave! I wanted to stay and help these people forever. This made me truly realize and confirm my passions for nursing, my goals, and a new found vision for my future.

-Rebecca Marion

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