Patients sit in a courtyard while waiting to check in for surgery.

Today’s post, written by Tiffany Alongi, RN, PCCN, a nurse in the Trauma, Burn and Surgical Critical Care Unit at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), is excerpted from the BWH Global Health Hub blog.

In November 2013, I embarked on a medical mission to Cajamarca, Peru, with an organization known as Medical Mission for Children (MMFC). MMFC is a nonprofit volunteer-based organization that travels to remote geographical locations in order to help children and young adults with the surgical repair of cleft lip and palate deformities, microtia (ear deformity), burn injuries, and head or neck tumors. The focus of my mission was to repair cleft lips and palates and dental extractions.

Not a day goes by that I do not think about my experiences in Cajamarca. Alongside my amazing MMFC coworkers, this once-in-a-lifetime experience provided me a new perspective and understanding of the struggles and obstacles children in third-world countries must overcome in order to obtain the health care that others so often take for granted. I will never forget the look of respect and gratitude I received from a mother the first time she was reunited with her three-year old-daughter following a cleft lip repair. Nor will I be able to forget the tears of joy from another set of parents following their tutorial on the proper care and medication administration for a cleft palate repair. I will always remember the undeniable look of trust and appreciation I received from a mother as she handed over her eight-month-old son to me before he was brought back into the operating room for surgery.

As a nurse, my role is to help people, but during this journey, all of my patients truly helped me. There is an entire world to explore with people suffering, and I plan to try to help as many as possible. My journey with MMFC opened my eyes to a whole new way of delivering health care. Cajamarca served to reinforce how gratifying it is to help others who are unable to afford the basic luxuries many people take for granted. The citizens of Cajamarca taught me the value of what it means to give from the heart and to focus on more than inconsequential material objects.

As I care for my patients today, I find myself more mindful of not only who they are, but where they come from and all the circumstances that have brought them to Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Cajamarca has taught me to be more attuned to making an impact on the patient during their hospitalization as well as attempting to incorporate what he or she has at his or her disposal after discharge. In short, Cajamarca changed the way I deliver nursing care. Being a nurse is about more than just administering medications and replacing bandages. Sure, I do all of those things, but I also bring patients and their families solace. I inspire and motivate patients to push harder, strive for success, and defeat what seem like insurmountable odds. I form connections and bonds with people I would ordinarily never have had the opportunity to meet.

I am thankful for the amazing opportunity to help others that is afforded to me because of my profession and the Medical Mission for Children organization.

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