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Nursing Education Goes Beyond the Classroom: Former student fulfills wish to provide global health care

Posted: Oct. 3, 2013

Chelsea meeting with one of her first patients.

Chelsea meeting with one of her first patients.

Chelsea teaming up with villagers for a plan of care.

Chelsea teaming up with villagers for a plan of care.

After walking for long periods, villagers wait patiently to see  the health-care team.

After walking for long periods, villagers wait patiently to see
the health-care team.

Volunteers from Texas, Massachusetts and Australia (and points in between) recently took part in a medical trek in the Dhading district of the Ganesh Himalayas in Nepal, a highly undeserved rural area where many Nepalese must walk an entire day to receive health-care treatment. One of the volunteers with Medical Trek Nepal is Chelsea Kelley (MSN ’12) a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing, who believes that the memory of her journey will last long after the dust and incense of Kathmandu has dissipated. The following is Chelsea’s account of her trip in March 2013.

“What I learned as a health-care practitioner was important, but what I learned as a life practitioner will never leave me,” Chelsea said as she reminisced recently about her time in Nepal. “Another member of the trek put it this way: ‘When people have better health, they can work and have a better life.’ It’s that simple — and true. Providing that chance for a better life is all we were trying to do.”

Dhading district is perhaps the most underserved in Nepal, Chelsea explained. “The fact that Western nurses, doctors and students would take time to go there — after all, it’s not Everest, it’s definitely not a tourist attraction! — means so much to those villagers. When people volunteer and pay for a trek that involves treating others who would otherwise get no other help, I think it changes something in them,” she said. “You have no idea how thankful those people were.”

Each day more than 300 people showed up at the medical camp to get treatment. After Chelsea’s group left, another team showed up four weeks later for follow-up treatments. The village/district manager director later told her that the trek did more good than any other in the area up to this time.

“Living conditions in the Himalayas are extremely basic. Villagers daily walk a long distance carrying jugs to retrieve water for their families. Many of our patients walked for days just to seek treatment from our medical team,” she said. “There is no electricity. The homes are very basic. Food was prepared on a stove on the floor lit with sticks or cow dung.”

Ventilation is also a problem, and many of the patients suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or other respiratory problems resulting from breathing in the smoke while preparing their food, she explained. Parasites were another problem, and the medical team spent a lot of time educating the villagers about boiling water before drinking it.

Chelsea’s team consisted of a physician from Boston, a physician’s assistant (PA) from Albequerque, New Mexico, two Nepali ICU nurses, a team of porters, Ramesh BK (a Nepali mountain guide and founder of Medical Trek Nepal), a nursing student from Maine, and herself.

“I ran triage with the help of a translator. Our PA and doctor diagnosed various conditions and provided treatment. We saw myriad conditions such as gastrointestinal and genitourinary problems, dehydration, respiratory distress, osteoarthritis, and polio,” she said. “For more serious problems that were beyond our ability to treat in the clinic, we provided referrals, signed by a Nepali physician, so the patient would receive fast-tracked treatment at Patan Hospital in Kathmandu.

Today, Chelsea is back in the U.S. working as a clinical resource specialist and nurse educator for a wound care company. She is also working on a wound, ostomy and continence nurse license through Emory University. But her dream to make a difference abroad and serve in global medical initiatives lives on and she would like to see more nurses and students joining in that effort.

“The things you learn on this kind of journey are things you’ll never see in the classroom,” she said.