Cherri Dobson, RN, NICU, Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center, was recently honored as a Volunteer of the Year with Project HOPE, an international nonprofit organization that conducts medical missions and health care and education training around the world.
She filed this from Dangriga, Belize – a town in southern Belize on the Caribbean Coast – where she is on a mission for Project HOPE, training local health care providers on obstetrical care.
May 14 – It’s my first week here, and we are focusing on maternal/child health and evaluating the Belizean health care system. We followed a rural public health nurse today into very remote areas to do immunizations and well-baby checks. This involved loading up an SUV with all the necessary supplies and traveling on unpaved, rutted, and winding roads. Sometimes we would jostle ten miles into the hills just to see one child. We saw both ends of the economic spectrum today – from kids who lived close to town in modern houses, to families living in shacks made of cardboard and corrugated tin roofs.
The RPN was amazing. At each stop she weighed and measured the child, and gave the recommended immunizations. Plenty of teaching went on about nutrition, preventative care, and growth and development. When I asked if these visits were scheduled, she laughed and said that many of the indigenous people, such as the Mayans, would make it a point not to be home if they knew she was coming! About 20 percent of the children we saw were underweight, so their mothers were told to go to the clinic and pick up a nutritional supplement, “Incaparina,” which is provided free of cost. All healthcare from birth to 5 years of age is provided free of cost in Belize.
Tomorrow we will be at a prenatal clinic in Dangriga, and later in the week we will visit several clinics and hospitals in the southern-most region of Belize—Punta Gorda, where some of the poorest of the poor villages are located. Then next week, I’ll be helping present a course called ALSO (Advanced Life Support Obstetrics), which is a course that is a collaboration of Project HOPE, the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force, to 30 providers from across Belize. We hope to identify local providers who would be willing to become instructors so that in the future, Belizeans can continue teaching it as part of their effort to give evidence-based obstetrical care to all pregnant women.
I have been volunteering with Project HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere) since 2008 – my first mission was in Liberia – and after I got involved I got a whole new perspective on charitable giving and how it works. While providing clinics and disaster services are valuable, they don’t correct the root of the problem: many nations are poor in available resources and trained personnel. Since HOPE’s focus is on sustainability and capacity building, I feel that this is where the most good can be achieved: by training the local professionals how to deliver evidenced-base care in settings lacking resources.
It awes me how grateful the providers are to have the educational opportunities that we provide. I have seen a nurse model her behavior on mine in such small but powerful ways as simple as hand washing between patients or doing an actual, hands-on assessment.
Likewise, we are going to the host nations and treat providers as colleagues, and our focus is showing them ways to give excellent, evidenced-based care despite their scarce resources.
For me, this is nursing at its most basic and fundamental level best. Sometimes we can get too overcome by all the bells and whistles we have at home, and it’s hard to see the patient. Out here, it’s truly patient-focused and seeing how much you can accomplish for them with limited resources.
I feel fortunate to be a Kaiser Permanente employee for many reasons. My immediate boss, Pam Middleton, has been very supportive of me and has worked with me every time to ensure I can do these missions. I volunteered to help with the cholera epidemic in Haiti and only had three days’ notice before I left!
Secondly, my unit at the Oakland Medical Center NICU, has also been supportive. Some of my colleagues work my shifts so I can go. Others send me supportive emails while I’m gone. Finally, the culture of Kaiser Permanente supports volunteerism. When I first started to do this, I found that Kaiser Permanente has a national policy which supports volunteering and disaster relief. Not many companies spell it out so clearly, and I feel fortunate to work for one that does.
Cherri Dobson, RN
Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center