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Family Nurse Practitioner Students Travel to Haiti on Mission Trip

August 1, 2012

In 2010, a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the small country of Haiti, which borders the Dominican Republic and is roughly the same size as the state of Massachusetts. In one day, three million of Haiti’s 9.8 million people lost their homes and were forced to use whatever materials they could find to construct shelters for themselves and their families in the disaster’s wake. Today, relief efforts have transformed into efforts to restore the Haitian people’s ability to control and sustain their livelihoods while accepting (without depending upon) outside assistance. Non-governmental organizations continue to visit the country regularly to provide the services and resources that are still desperately needed. Explorers Sans Frontières (ESF) is one of those organizations.

Four Family Nurse Practitioner students from the College had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Haiti with ESF on a medical mission trip in late June. During their weeklong stay, FNP students Debbie Pestrak, Karen Riley, Colleen Silk and Nicole Waetzman delivered acute, episodic and chronic care services to hundreds of Haitian men, women and children and taught basic skills to Haitian health outreach workers. Their patients ranged in age from several days to 92 years-old, and suffered from health problems that are also prevalent in the United States (hypertension, type 2 diabetes) as well as from afflictions that are nearly never seen in our country today, like late stage typhoid fever.

The four students were accompanied by Sharon Byrne, PhD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Nursing and Track Coordinator for the Family Nurse Practitioner MSN Program, Ahaji Schreffler, Assistant Director of the Study Abroad Program of Drexel University, and by Elizabeth Teixeira, DrNP, Assistant Clinical Professor and Director of Graduate Clinical Education. Halfway through the trip, the Drexel group met ESF Director of Mental Health and Wellness Chrystal Taylor, who offered mental and behavioral health services to patients that included teaching them stress-reduction and mindfulness exercises.

During the course of the trip, the Drexel ESF group attended the Haitian American Caucus (whose mission is to empower the Haitian people to take control of their own destiny), ran a women’s health clinic, conducted general wellness exams, and provided nutrition and hydration education. They conducted physicals for a men’s soccer team and visited a tent city where residents constructed homes out of whatever materials they could find. Debbie Pestrak tearfully remembered one woman who proudly welcomed the group into her cramped 9’ x 5’ tent.

In a presentation to the FNP I students and some members of the College faculty on the evening of July 11, Debbie, Nicole, Colleen and Karen unanimously portrayed the medical mission trip as “an amazing clinical experience.” After showing a slideshow of photographs from the trip and reading segments from journals they kept while in Haiti, Al Rundio, PhD, DNP, asked the four FNP students to each respond to the question, “What is the most important thing you learned or took away this experience that will help you in your practice?” Collectively, their answers demonstrate that they developed newfound confidence in their diagnostic and assessment abilities in circumstances where limited medical resources and technologies were available.