Hear how nurses are giving back to their communities, and to the world. In this episode of Nursing Notes Live, you’ll meet a nurse and a physician’s assistant involved with the Nursing Innovation Council of Excellence Employee Resource Group (NICE ERG) at Johnson & Johnson, and hear about their recent visit to Nicaragua.
We talk about the NICE ERG program and their recent trip to Nicaragua to participate in an initiative with the Ministry of Health in Nicaragua and Save the Children, a non-governmental organization that promotes children’s rights, provides relief and helps support children in developing countries. Here’s that discussion.
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Jamie Davis: Maida and Yvonne, I want to thank you both for coming on nursing notes live this month. It’s really a pleasure to have both of you here joining us.
Both: Thank you very much.
Jamie: So we always start off with one question for our nurses on the show and I’m curious to hear about your answers to this as well. Maida, we’ll start with you, why don’t you tell us why you wanted to become a nurse.
Maida Figuereo: Thank you, Jamie. I wanted to become a nurse since I can probably remember. When I was a very young girl, my grandfather was stricken with Guillain-Barre and he was frequently in the hospital. I just remember the adults just feeling so anxious and worried for him and watching the healthcare team get him back to good health was probably the first opportunity I had to think, “I wanted to be one of those people. I wanted to be someone that brings a member of the family that’s so loved back to good health”. And then later on, when I was looking for career opportunities in high school, I was fortunate enough to know two really great nurses had very different nursing roles. One was involved in public health and the other one was in acute care setting. My dad always wanted me to be a nurse. He pressed me to meet with these folks and spend a day with them. Once I saw what they did and how their lives really were touched by the people that they cared for and the difference that they need each and every day, it just really solidified it for me that that’s who I wanted to be. I wanted to be someone that gives back and have enriching life and to make a difference in people’s lives to bring health to each and every one of the individuals. The teaching that they did at that was another interest of mine. They did a lot of education and that just really appealed to me greatly. So ever since I can remember, to answer your question, I’ve always wanted to be a nurse. It’s a great call and happy that I did.
Jamie: That’s fantastic. Yvonne, how about you?
Yvonne Vazquez: You know, Jamie, similar to Maida, I think since I was an adolescent I always wanted to be a nurse. My father had suffered many years of COPD and having seen the suffering that he went through for many years really encouraged me to pursue a career in medicine. So I would say I decided to become a nurse at age 18. I graduated high school early. I was fortunate. I went to nursing school when I was 17 actually and graduated when I was just nearly 20 and worked at a private urgent care centers for seven years. I loved that. I loved being in the in the trenches and having that excitement of ER and always wanted to help people. But pretty much I wanted to further my education. I thought of going into – to get my MD and heard about the PA program. And I decided to actually do that. And really what led me to that in combination with the nursing is that my husband and I had started a community outreach program called “Street Reach” in the heart of New York City which actually began on 14th St. in Manhattan, which led to the cleanup of many young men who were prostitutes, drug addicts and who actually subsequently got infected with HIV and AIDS. At that point, I really realized my purpose in life and knew that – “You know what, in order to make a difference here, to be able to describe to these individuals, let me go back to school and get my prescribing license,” and I thought that that became a better option to me at the time plus my dream was actually to become an AIDS specialist, which came true as initially I started working in Miami with a physician as a PA. I was able to provide care on medical care to those affected with AIDS and infected and graduated from school in ‘94 from Hahnemann University. I was able to really live my dream as a nurse in the beginning and then subsequently as a PA and works in pharma now currently in the HIV sector.
Jamie: That’s fantastic and speaking of where you work, you guys both work for companies that fall under Johnson & Johnson’s umbrella. And I noticed that as part of our talk about giving back as nurses that you both belong to their Employee Resource Group for nurses called “NICE” that stands for “Nursing Innovation Council of Excellence”. Yvonne, why don’t you to tell us a little bit about what’s your involvement with that group has been, what it means to you to have an organization like that within the company?
Yvonne: Thank you, Jamie. I was very impressed. I had no clue at first that Johnson & Johnson actually had this initiative for the nurses. So when I heard about the Nursing Event Council ER Group, I was very excited to join up and sign up and get on the conference call. Then along with Maida, we had been on the same call at the time and they had shared with us about an opportunity to be able to travel to Nicaragua and partner with Save the Children. We weren’t aware that Johnson & Johnson was even business partners with Save the Children along with the Ministry of Health. Both of us, at the same time – and Maida could share that as well – but both of us had a heart for this after we got off the call. We really felt compelled to really reach out to them and to consider us to be a candidate for this. Actually the goal of that initiative was to spend about two weeks working through remote areas in Nicaragua. And the purpose was basically to assess the medical training programs, which really had been implemented already by these two organizations. Maida and I, we were able to actually achieve our goal within one week and identify the areas of improvement for training and any gaps in care in which the NICE ERG wanted us to do and J&J can aid in a greater way down the road. What we saw was pretty much that those individuals who worked alongside with Save the Children and the Ministry of Health, their mission was to train these community workers, the Brigadistas, to treat really the most common childhood diseases – pretty much diarrhea and malaria and pneumonia – and their focus was to improve maternal health as well, as well as child healthcare and works in partnership with the Ministry of Health to reach those endless numbers of children who are living in poverty. Maida can expound a little bit more on that as well.
Jamie: Maida, go ahead. What are your thoughts about going on this trip as a nurse?
Maida: Well, like Yvonne, I was immediately drawn to this opportunity. I’ve always had a strong desire to do mission work and the involvement and backing of Johnson & Johnson and the NICE group really solidified that decision for me. Also Yvonne and I – this is part of nursing. Nursing is all about teamwork. We partner very well together out in the field. So I had absolutely no hesitation in thinking that we would do a phenomenal job as a team going into Nicaragua together with a common goal. So I was immediately drawn to the opportunity and knowing that my team and Yvonne would come with me that just made it even better. Back to NICE, I think that for us, as Johnson and Johnson employees, I think that the beauty of working for this organization is that not only are we working in the world that we’re working but our company really encourages that to enrich our lives, enrich our roles by joining these types of Employee Resource Groups and really furthering developing ourselves and collaborating with not just people in our own area but all around the world. So that just makes all the difference for me. The fact that we are so focused on Credo and this NICE Group initiative really gives back. It’s a testament to living our credo every day.
Jamie: Maida, what was one of your experiences? Can you maybe give us an idea of what that was like being in Nicaragua?
Maida: Well, no words can really express how much – it was just so heart wrenching and beautiful and exciting at the same time. I think for me going there and not really knowing what to expect – we have an idea in talking to Joanne and Heidi from NICE – we had an idea what to expect but it was through the people for me that brought that whole experience to life and the heart behind it was the faces of kids, the expected moms, the Save the Children staff that we worked with. It just meant so much to our company go, I think, beyond any other organization. We could say that internationally to really give back. And just so humble and really unbelievably touched that I was one of the persons that was selected with Yvonne to be a part of it. It meant a great deal. It really did.
Jamie: Yvonne, how about you? What experiences do you recall that really had an impact on you?
Yvonne: Oh, there were so many. We’re so grateful to really Joanne and Heidi for giving us this opportunity that we were able to have these experiences. We were able to witness the level of compassion and commitment that these Brigadistas, they were like the liaison or the medics in-between the care, having that care, initial care with the patient and determining whether they needed hospitalization or medical care or antibiotic therapy right there and then. Just seeing that level of commitment that these individuals had, that were volunteers, that they would cross over rivers to get within their community, to get to the education, these mothers who are expecting and these little children and to see how dedicated, how determined they were to just help these individuals. The passion was just incredible. Some of those experiences, we met some amazing people such as a young determined mother who wanted to become a Brigadista. She was very proud to really be able to give back to the community. She had walked – actually two hours with her six-year-old son from her community to receive this Brigadista training from the Ministry of Health. That was very impressive. And on top of that, Maida and I, during that time we observed the training, we actually – both her son and another child sang to us, which broke our hearts. Another memorable time would have been when Maida handed her iPhone to this young boy, Joshua, and we taught him to play Angry Birds. Within minutes, it was like he was having the time of his life and just seeing that and being able to give him a little bit of time and just see him laugh and sing and be happy after walking two hours and initially first telling us that he was so tired, really touched our hearts. The other thing was just driving along to the different regions in the jungle to get our destinations. Seeing these kids that live in poverty and running to our car and we would give them cookies and just love them and they’re just was so gracious and exhibited such gratitude and their smiles. We will always remember the smiles that they had. Just to stop and say hello and just to greet them and spend time with them that was definitely some of the most memorable experiences that we’ve had.
Jamie: You know, Yvonne, I love hearing about kids all over the world because it just didn’t impresses upon me the children are just children wherever you go. That they are the same everywhere and they find joy in the simplest things around them and even if they’re tired, they seem to just wake up to the joy in things around them. That’s an amazing story.
Yvonne: That’s so true, Jamie. Just to add to that, I think it’s not just children that are the same all over the world but really people are all the same all over the world. We have the same wants and desires. Everybody wants to be loved and have a home and have clean water. Those are the basic things that we all want in our lives. We saw such a lack of some of that in the areas that we visited. Going in there, even a little bit goes a long way because they had so little but they’re able to accomplish big things, the children especially. I think that with the shortage of resources that they have, they still manage to do a lot of good and are having a huge impact in actually saving lives. So for us to see that even under those kinds of conditions that Yvonne described, working with them.
Jamie: As we kind of get close to the end here, one of the things I talked to a lot of nurses about that have gone on these types of mission trips is that it has been the impact of the trip that they’ve brought back with them. What are some of the things, Maida, that you came back and it changed your perspective about when you returned home?
Maida: Well, definitely, I believe that as Americans we are very privileged. We have so much. In the healthcare system, we have everything at our fingertips. We have every imaginable resource. We have all this technology in a world that we need. And sometimes even that gets in the way of giving just that human touch. And that’s what I think that nurses do the best is just cutting through all that stuff and just getting to the heart of the person and making lives better for patients, their families and so forth. So I was able to see in Nicaragua that even with the lack of resources and the little that they have, there is a difference being made there. Because of this people, the volunteers that work kind of like a healthcare provider without all the bells and whistles, but they get the job done and they’re having tremendous impact. So for me coming back I so appreciate what we have here. So Thanksgiving was even more special, because we came back just before Thanksgiving this year.
Jamie: Oh, I didn’t realize it was that recent. That’s amazing. Yvonne, what about you? What did you bring back with you?
Yvonne: Yes. What I brought back with me was that many beautiful Nicaraguan children are living in poverty. That their parents work together in communities to survive. No matter how bad they have it, they are survivors and they make the best of their lives. And it’s something that really America can learn from countries like Nicaragua and it’s amazing to see the unity and the gratitude that people had for the little that they had and their substandard way of life compared to what we have in America. It’s just incredible. One-third, Jamie, of all Nicaraguan children, they never enroll in elementary school. They fail to attend. They work in the coffee fields or they drop out before reaching the sixth grade. The majority of these children, it’s pitiful. You could see their future written what’s going to be. Even if they have the potential to be something, to do something, which every child does, you can predict actually how the outcome will be, and it’s very sad. And others that actually threaten these children are malnutrition, teenage pregnancy, early marriages, child trafficking, sexual exploitation, gang involvement and also HIV and AIDS. I believe, as well as, I’m sure Maida, with all my heart that reaching all make a difference within our own communities as well as within these countries that have human beings living in these deplorable conditions. We feel very strongly that everyone should give back a portion to what they have been blessed with. We have so many resources, as Maida said, an opportunity here living in America and we really are without excuse to help our fellow man. My hope is that others would hear the cry of those who suffer in these circumstances and lend a helping hand either financially, physically, on a missionary trip, emotionally or even spiritually.
Jamie: Yvonne, as we wrap up here, my last question is, looking at how nurses have always really been integral parts of the healthcare on the fringes of the societies around the world, what would you say to nurses and even nursing students that are listening to this about the importance as nurses of giving back to their communities and the world community?
Yvonne: I think sometimes we take things for granted. Being a nurse gives you the opportunity to really go to the places that other individuals may not be able to ever reach in their lifetime and to be able to give nursing care, medical care and to be able to teach, educate those who were without. And I would give them the advice that if you’re attending nursing school, it’s really important to get out there and get that experience whether it’s going out there and feeding the homeless or going to these communities where there is indigent individuals and really assessing the needs there in your local communities as well as taking on the opportunity to have those opportunities to go into the mission fields. Maybe it’s the Bahamas, to the AIDS camps, maybe to Nicaragua, wherever it is to be able to make a difference in the world because in the US we really have greater access to healthcare and we have cleaner facilities and medications available, we are truly fortunate to work for a company like Johnson & Johnson, who actually has outstanding products where we can help these individuals, that they can be business partners, but as a nurse, being able to be that hand extended to that patient, that individual who is in need and be able to communicate with them and patients, individuals have a way of expressing themselves more to a nurse that I think outright to the doctor. They feel more comfortable. The nurse takes the time to basically spend with that patient and gets in that trench, in that area where the patient can really let down their hair and be honest with what they are experiencing, what they’re going through. But I think it’s really important for individuals to allow that opportunity to come into their lives and set themselves apart where they can be able to touch lives in a greater capacity because nurses can do that with the training that they’ve had and the experience behind them in whatever field, whatever specialty that they have.
Jamie: Maida, how about you?
Maida: I couldn’t agree more and I have to say that this was my third mission trip and I hope to do many more in the future. It really enriches your background, your skills. Coming back from something like that I think the value in that experience can really be weaved into the day-to-day job of any nurse. It doesn’t matter what settings work and after you’ve gone to another part of the world that doesn’t have a sterile environment and all the tools and all resources that we have and you witness what can be done, you come back with a whole different perspective and attitude about what can be done, what everything we have.
Make sure you check out the entire December 2014 issue of Nursing Notes where we look at how nurses give back to their communities and the world. You can read the entire issue www.discovernursing.com and don’t miss the other Nursing Notes Live episode this month where I sit down with student nurse Kelly Hunt current National Student Nurses Association president and nursing student at the University of North Florida. You’ll find this and other episodes of Nursing Notes Live in the podcast area on iTunes.