Fourth-year nursing student Allison Doe says her international experiences traveling and studying abroad helped crystallize her decision to set her sights as a nurse on improving public healthcare for the poor on a global basis. The Spanish-speaking Bowdoinham, Maine, native worked just after high school with impoverished children in a local hospital in Ecuador. As a sophomore in the UMaine School of Nursing, she worked with Chilean children and the Chilean Red Cross. Last summer, she worked with migrant blueberry rakers in Downeast Maine. The experiences gave her a richer appreciation of the urgency for better public health policy in poor communities everywhere, she says. An educated society with access to resources can improve nutrition, implement preventative medicine, create skilled healthcare professionals and manage its environment, among other factors that affect health, Doe says.
Where did you grow up?
Where do you live now?
I split my time between Orono, for classes, and Portland, for my senior practicum at Maine Medical Center.
What years were you at UMaine?
September 2008 through May 2012.
What degree(s) will you receive from UMaine?
B.S. in Nursing with a minor in Spanish
What led you to choose UMaine?
I applied to UMaine as a high school senior, undecided in my career path. UMaine not only had an extensive array of studies to select from, but they allowed me to defer for a year to study in Ecuador. In 2008, I returned to enter the nursing program.
What, if any, research initiatives have you been involved in while at UMaine?
In 2009 while studying abroad in Chile, I became involved with the Chilean Red Cross at a time when it was re-designing its approach to health education. It implemented a research project investigating various methods of promoting information on communicable diseases to the immigrant and homeless population of Santiago. My contribution to the project was to conduct interviews with immigrants and homeless adults who attended the weekly Red Cross health clinic. After the interviews, I worked with a health team to analyze the data.
This year in the course “Community and Public Health Nursing,” five classmates and I assessed the emergency preparedness of the Mount Desert Island community. To gauge the community’s knowledge of appropriate actions during a medical emergency, we distributed surveys, conducted anecdotal interviews and contacted community services. We also questioned residents about hypothetical reactions to medical symptoms, confidence in 9-1-1 services, and their distance from the ambulance service. Now that we’ve identified deficits based on the results of the study, our group is proposing a plan to address these issues on a community level.
How have your studies at UMaine prepared you for your future career?
Small classroom environments at UMaine have offered me an atmosphere in which I have been able to develop supportive relationships with faculty, and study abroad opportunities have fostered my personal growth. Through my involvement in student organizations, I have had opportunities to work on new projects and in leadership positions. As the current president of the Orono Student Nurses’ Association, I have had the chance to collaborate with an incredible group of people to implement community outreach projects. These opportunities have equipped me with a skill set that will be invaluable to me in future endeavors.
Where have you traveled and what sort of work did you do?
The year before entering college, I traveled independently to Quito, Ecuador. During the nine-month visit, I took classes at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito and volunteered at the Hospital Baca Ortiz, the largest public children’s hospital in the region. The hospital serves impoverished families from Ecuador and parts of Colombia and Peru, and it is chronically undersupplied and understaffed.
My work at the hospital varied, and progressed with my proficiency in Spanish. I originally began by distributing food and medical supplies in the mornings, and eventually stayed all hours caring for orphaned infants, providing patient comfort, assisting with social work, organizing donations, or whatever else was needed.
It is difficult for me to summarize this experience. It impacted me profoundly on many levels, ultimately aiding in the development of my life goals, views and career choice.
Through the University of Maine’s Study Abroad program, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Chile as a sophomore. I took nursing classes at the Universidad de Chile, taught English to a wonderful group of children and teens awaiting project housing in Santiago, and became involved with the Chilean Red Cross research initiative.
Working as an AmeriCorps member with the Maine Migrant Health Program, I had the opportunity in 2011 to work within my home state. The position consisted of visiting farms to present pesticide safety and health topics to agricultural workers. I spent one month in Downeast Maine, assisting in a Mobile Medical Unit and organizing the annual food pantry that Maine Migrant Health offers for the blueberry rakers. I am grateful to have been able to work with such an incredible organization here in Maine.
I am excited that this February I will be traveling with a group of nursing students, a faculty adviser, and recent RN graduate to Belize to do medical outreach through International Service Learning. We will be involved in community health assessments and health care support in underprivileged villages and Belize City. Our group is currently attempting to collaborate with Partners for World Health to organize a donation of recycled medical supplies from Maine hospitals. It has been a long fundraising process, and we cannot be more appreciative to those who have helped us.
What has been most rewarding, inspiring?
Although each experience has provided a new lesson, my time spent at Hospital Baca Ortiz was the most rewarding.
Within the peeling walls of the hospital were some of the most kind-hearted people I have had the fortune to meet. Despite all of the things going against them, families took care of each other. Mothers shared their beds, chairs, or floor space with fellow mothers, young children gave their only toys to strangers, and fathers handed their one meal to the person waiting next to them in line. A strong sense of hope and unity persisted in even the most desperate of situations.
The children themselves represented the ideals of humanity. Their perpetual optimism, courage, willingness to give, and hope, even on their deathbed, was an inspiration to all who interacted with them. My favorite moments were bringing them to the playroom, which had been elaborately painted with birds and forest scenes. This was a place where children could almost forget that they were ill, and play like normal children.
Despite the perseverance of children and families, the reality of the situation still exists. To this day, I sometimes feel a residual guilt when I reflect upon the hospital. One memory that I will have forever: A mother approached me clutching an X-ray, lines of tears dried to her face, confessing that she spent her last $74 on a medication that could potentially save her comatose daughter, but that that her daughter would die because she could not afford another dose, her other children were going hungry, she lost her job for spending too much time at the hospital, and her husband was dying of cancer. It deeply saddens me that all I could do for her was to buy groceries that only lasted a week.
It was this moment, along with many others, that led to my decision to study nursing. Even though many experiences in the hospital were heartbreaking, they gave me perspective and purpose. Nurses have the chance to be there for those who need it most, to explain procedures, to find opportunities and provide education. The need for health and human compassion transcends all languages and borders. I have promised myself that next time I encounter the memory of this mother in the form of another person, I will know what to do.
What do you envision as a career path after graduation?
My short-term goal is to work in a hospital setting to build on my foundation of nursing skills. Eventually I hope to travel as a nurse, and I look forward to discovering new cultures through healthcare. My interests lie in both critical care and in public health; I see no limits to pursuing both.
My long-term goal is to attend graduate school for a Doctor of Nursing Practice or for my Master of Public Health. I hope to return one day to Hospital Baca Ortiz as a nurse, to give something back to an institution that has influenced me so much.
You’ve expressed an interest in improving public health on a global scale. How do you think can accomplish that?
Global health is a complex issue. Health is intertwined and impossible to separate from culture, politics, infrastructure, economy, environment, resources, etc. Speaking from personal experience, I believe that education is the most important treasure one can have. An educated society with access to resources can improve nutrition, implement preventative medicine, create skilled health care professionals, and manage their environment, among many other factors that affect health.
I have come to the conclusion that my first step is to educate myself on these issues so that I can contribute appropriately and educate others. In my experience, people are eager to learn about health. For example, I have sent Spanish first aid books and medical texts to communities in Ecuador, and have received letters of overwhelming gratitude in return. Although their numbers are small, each person within these communities is a special individual who holds the potential to help another.
Do you have any favorite professors or classes, and what lessons did you take from them that resonate today?
I have had very positive experiences with faculty at UMaine. There are three professors who have been particularly helpful throughout my academic career.
Susan Wheaton, my pharmacology instructor and cardiac clinical preceptor, has been a mentor and a voice of reason. I cannot count the number of times that I have entered her office with an idea, concern, or in need of advice, and on each occasion she has offered her undivided attention to listen and offer guidance. She promotes integrity and leadership, consistently encouraging students to make ethical decisions, regardless of the circumstance.
Nilda Cravens, a community health nursing professor, has always made an extra effort to reach out to students. Before beginning a position with Maine Migrant Health, I emailed Professor Cravens for her expertise in trans-cultural nursing. During our meeting that followed, she presented me with an entire binder that she had prepared herself, filled with articles, facts, and other information regarding migrant farm workers, as well as a medical Spanish reference book to borrow for the summer. I will always remember the kindness she has shown me, and have heard similar sentiments from other students that she has helped.
Professor of Spanish Kathleen March introduced me to the importance of language. It was in her class that I first encountered sociolinguistics, a subject that will forever hold my attention. She inspired me to educate myself, to embrace my interests, and to think beyond. Through Professor March, I discovered many authors and forms of thought, which has led to my keeping a running book list of her recommendations.
Were there any classes you took that almost did you in? Is there a lesson to be learned from your experience?
Junior year of nursing school is famous among students for NUR 301, Medical/Surgical Nursing, which includes clinical experience, laboratory simulations and a lecture. This course broke every comfort barrier I had at the time. In retrospect, I have learned to more effectively handle stress and am more comfortable performing tasks with an audience. I am more comfortable in clinical scenarios with the skills I gained during this course.
Most memorable moment at UMaine?
Each year I enjoy attending the International Dance Festival. It is a rare event to see a compilation of many diverse and beautiful dances. The performance never fails to impress me.
Favorite places or spots on campus?
I spend as much time in the Oakes Room in the library as my apartment. While the café is my favorite study spot, I also enjoy stopping in to view the art exhibits in Lord Hall for peace of mind on a hectic day.
Image Description: Allison Doe