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Haiti Mission Trip: an Emotional and Transformational Experience for Family Nurse Practitioner Students

July 29, 2013

Hati“I was terribly nervous, as were we all,” said John Evers, a Family Nurse Practitioner student who travelled on a medical mission trip to Haiti along with seven other students from the program during mid-June. On July 10, the group presented on their experience in the New College Building. Attendees included both FNP1 and 5 students; many were interested in either pursuing a medical mission trip on their own or in participating in the third annual Drexel trip to Haiti next year.

The students traveled with Sharon Byrne,DrNP, Track Coordinator of the Family Nurse Practitioner Program, and Louise Murray, an associate clinical professor. The Drexel group was led by members of the nonprofit organization Explorers Sans Frontiers (ESF), which has worked tirelessly to improve conditions in Haiti since the earthquake in 2010.

“I was so transformed by this experience,” Evers continued. Although he initially thought he would work as a Nurse Practitioner in an upper-middle class community, Evers was motivated by this trip to pursue a position in an underserved neighborhood after obtaining his degree. “I wasn’t prepared for the amount of profound poverty,” he said, “though it’s important to note that it is financial poverty, not spiritual poverty.” Evers and the student presenters who followed all commented on the triumphant spirit and pride demonstrated by the Haitian people they encountered on their week-long trip. Among the group’s stops in Haiti were a tent city, orphanage, the capital city of Port-au-Prince, and the Haitian American Caucus.

Between June 16 and 22, the Family Nurse Practitioner students saw one case of elephantitis and several cases of severe malnutrition. “There were moments when I had to turn around, cry a little, and then turn back around,” said Kathy Dolan. “The kids we saw are experiencing things that children should not have to experience,” she continued. Dolan is a mother herself, and remarked on the state of the kids’ clothing and the fact that many young patients traveled far to receive care while unaccompanied by a parent or guardian.

John Evers, Shonta Collins, Marilyn Berchie, Karla Falluca, Kathy Dolan, Marie Metz, Lisa Buckley and Valerie Caraballo treated more than 300 patients per day, from infants to the elderly. They saw conditions that included tropical diseases, fungal infections, sexually transmitted infections, gastrointestinal disturbances and respiratory infections, as well as many cases of worms. “We learned to work with what we’ve got in order to get the job done,” Evers said. “We went down there with limited supplies.” The students acted as primary care providers with limited guidance from Murray and Byrne, who would only answer to her first name- Sharon- during the trip. “It really felt like I was the practitioner,” Evers elaborated. Byrne said that this was a very rare opportunity for the participating FNP students, as students are almost never able to prescribe medications before they earn their degrees.

The Family Nurse Practitioner trip that took place in June is one of three trips to Haiti that the College of Nursing and Health Professions has made in the past academic year. Family Nurse Practitioner students in the previous class traveled to Haiti with ESF during the same time in 2012, and a multidisciplinary group took a trip in March 2013. That group included five Psych/mental health Nurse Practitioner students, two Physician Assistant students, and faculty members Dorit Breiter, NPP, and Juanita Gardner.

For more information about the FNP Haiti mission experience, please contact Sharon Byrne. Please direct questions about global study opportunities to Donna Sabella, PhD.