COOKEVILLE –A dozen Tennessee Tech nursing students recently returned from a life-changing experience in Belize.
Led by Whitson-Hester School of Nursing professor Melissa Geist, the seniors got a first-hand look at healthcare in a third-world country during a week-long visit in August.
“It is life-changing,” Geist said. “It impacts the way they approach nursing.”
The group stayed in Agucate, a village consisting of approximately 400 people. There, they worked with the certified community health worker to do wellness checks and restock the village’s health outpost.
“We brought a lot of donated items,” Geist said.
Donated items included over-the-counter medications, dental supplies, school supplies, athletic equipment, crutches, diapers and other necessary items.
The donations were made possible by area churches, businesses, family members, friends and the nursing school foundation.
Planning for the trip began in April. Geist prepared the students on what to expect, including the lack of electricity, and many other amenities that Americans take for granted.
“My expectations were low, but it was better than I thought it would be,” student Hannah Timson said. “I wanted to stay longer.”
Despite having so little, the villagers were happy and grateful, according to student Kristin Storey.
“They don’t take things for granted,” Storey said.
Wellness checks were done on people of all ages, with the youngest being one month old.
“They let us come in to their homes and do the wellness checks,” Timson said. “They treated us like we were a part of their family.”
Wellness checks included assessments of blood sugar, blood pressure, pulse, oxygen saturations and evaluation of medication or herbs.
Newborn wellness checks were also conducted. Students checked the infant heart, lungs, vital signs and weight.
Students also took the opportunity to educate the villagers about their diet, lifestyle, and any medical problems.
Wounds, broken bones and a case of spina bifida were also analyzed.
There was also the community wellness day where stations were set up to promote good health practices, such as handwashing, dental hygiene, sports and dancing, ergonomics and stretching.
“These people are farmers, so the way they take care of their bodies is important,” Geist said.
There was a little bit of a challenge in understanding the villagers; however, most did speak and understand English.
Some even spoke five languages, with their native language being Q’eqchi, a Mayan language.
“Access to healthcare is very hard for them,” Geist said. “They oftentimes have to travel an hour and a half to get good healthcare.”
Husband and wife Austin and Lacee Hill said it was a great hands-on experience.
“It changed how I view things,” Lacee said. “They don’t take things for granted.”
Austin said the impact his care had on his host family will stay with him forever.
“There was a little difficulty due to language barriers and cultural differences, but it was a great experience,” he said.
They also came across a few unique injuries. One that stood out was a machete cut on a child’s foot, which was well-taken care of by the community health worker.
“It was healing very well,” Storey said.
The trip also tested their limits.
“It was miserably hot, two students got sick and one was bitten by a scorpion,” Geist said. “They worked with no complaints and completed the mission.”
Onnolee Steva was the student bit by the scorpion.
“We had no idea what would happen,” Timson, who was Steva’s roommate while on the trip, said. “We just sat there (after the bite happened) and stared at it (the wound) with the flashlight on it.”
Fortunately, her injuries were mild.
“It swelled up a bit, but that was all,” Steva said.
As the group moves toward life outside of school, this experience gave them a new perspective in nursing.
It enhanced Steva’s passion to be a part of medical missions.
“I’ve always been interested in doing that,” she said.
Storey said this experience has given her more motivation to help those less fortunate.
“This will make us better nurses,” Timson said. “You look at people differently after an experience like this.”
In addition to these students, others who went on the trip include Xander Barrett, Tori Ledbetter, Alana Holman, Erin Sanders, Emma Clinton, Margaret Beasley, and assistant professor of nursing Jennifer Mabry. Sanders, Clinton, Storey, Beasley and Austin Hill are in the accelerated bachelor’s in nursing program, while the others are in the traditional bachelor’s in nursing track.