Elizabeth Yates, a senior nursing major from Warwick, R.I., is preparing herself to travel to Nicaragua with Villanova’s Nursing Without Borders program for the fourth time this spring.
When people at the University think about break experiences in Nicragua, Water for Waslala, the engineering intiative comes to mind. Faculty and students from the College of Engineering have been going to Waslala since 2003 to test and evaluate the current water systems in place and implement improvements while building their partnership.
This partnership with the community of Nicaragua stems beyond the College of Engineering now into the College of Nursing and the School of Business.
As a nursing student, Yates has found great interest in Nicaragua and the healthcare needs there.
She can barely contain her excitement about returning to a community that has impacted her life so greatly.
Yates got involved in the program when her advisor Betty Keech, a founder of the trip, recommended she go as an alternative to studying abroad.
“Because of nursing, I couldn’t study abroad, and I had spent a summer in Spain after my freshman year,” she says. “I knew I was interested in an international program, and my advisor told me about the Nicaragua trip. I’m a Spanish minor, so I wanted to do something in a Spanish-speaking country, and ended up in Nicaragua.”
As previously mentioned, the University became involved in serving the community of Waslala, Nicaragua 11 years ago, so the foundation already established appealed to Yates’ interest in the program in Waslala.
“There is a small city center, with about 10,000 people living in the area,” Yates says. “Most people live in remote areas in the mountains without electricity, and it could take them up to four hours to get into town. Access to health care is very slim for these people.”
The program is a collaborative effort among Engineering Without Borders, Nursing Without Borders and Business Without Borders. Each group works to their strengths when it comes to their civic projects.
The engineers devise cell phones so that communities without electricity can have means to communicate with hospitals. The cell phones can be used to text hospitals with patient records, ask questions and arrange for ambulances in case of emergency.
The business school makes an impact as well, taking on projects to promote the local economy. This past fall break, the business students focused more specifically on Nicaragua’s eco-tourism and ways they could expand that aspect of their business.
The nurses’ job is to educate locally elected health officials that have no medical background. They are taught basic medical knowledge like how to check for vital signs and first aid care. The health officials are given backpacks with scales, blood pressure cuffs, stethoscopes, cell phones and solar chargers.
When local health care workers are learning these skills, they have the opportunity to practice on each other, as shown in pictures.
“It’s cool to go back and see some of the older people in the program, people we’ve taught, teach others and help other people practice on each other,” Yates says.
Yates first traveled to Waslala her sophomore year, returned junior year and recently went this past fall break. She has visited clinical sights, maternal health homes and even traveled on mules to the mountain communities and eaten dinner cooked by a fire.
Each time she goes, she continues to learn more about healthcare in Waslala and how it has developed during the months between her visits.
“This program started eleven years ago with five health care workers,” Yates says. “Now, there are seventy. Going back and seeing the health officials I met my sophomore year, and seeing how much confidence they have gained is incredible. I was at the beginning of these stages, and I have really been able to see how far the program has come.”
Yates also had the opportunity to see the start of the University initiative in a town about five hours from Waslala called Via Del Carmen.
Yates met the five women who would begin the efforts in Via Del Carmen, a gender difference from the male majority of healthcare workers in Waslala.
In addition to this difference in gender leadership, Yates saw the differences in communities and the needs of the people. Being able to see the varying stages of the program gave Yates a more holistic view of University work and the after-effects of the efforts of the group.
The unique community and her dedication to service continues to draw her back time after time. This year, Yates is working on an independent research project about Parkinson’s disease in rural communities.
She first became interested in Parkinson’s disease when her advisor finished up her own project on the subject, and she is now looking into what people in Nicaragua know about Parkinson’s, how frequent incidents of it occur and what they are doing to treat it.
Right now, it seems like incidents are low for Parkinson’s, but Yates says that could be because it is under-diagnosed.
“It’s difficult to get out and get to a hospital with a muscle disorder, so we’re really looking to see how accurate their current numbers on Parkinson’s are,” she says.
Right now, patients with Parkinson’s are mostly treated with sedatives as opposed to medication or therapy, which will ease their pain but not necessarily slow the disease. Yates is looking into the various options accessible for people in rural areas of the country to diagnose themselves and their family members then, maybe eventually, find easily accessible treatment or therapy of some kind.
The program has helped Yates realize the influence nurses have, even as students, on a global level.
“This really gave me an appreciation for the impact nursing can have,” Yates says. “When you are a nurse, it is about more than just getting a job. It doesn’t even need to be international. There is such a need for nurses and it is our duty to do service.”
Although Yates will be graduating from the University in the spring, she knows her upcoming trip to Nicaragua will not be her last.
“I would love to stay in touch,” she says. “I am so excited to go back. I love the program and the community, and the sustainable lasting impact that we have.”