Last month, my nurse practitioner sister in-law went on a medical mission to Ethiopia with her husband. She had an unbelievable time! I have been asked about medical missions before so I thought I would do an interview with the founders of the organization and my sister in-law.
This post is my interview with the founders, Amber and Jerry Kaufman.
All answers below are from Amber, unless otherwise noted.
(Also, please note Jerry’s solid beard.)
Amber, I know you are a nurse practitioner. Where did you get your nursing degree and your NP? Do you still work in the USA as an NP, if so, where?
I got my nursing degree from Purdue University. I initially became a Pediatric NP from the University of Central Florida. I later got a Post-Master’s Certificate for adult NP from University of Massachusetts – Boston. I currently work as an NP with One Medical Group.
Jerry, what is your professional background?
I am a Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago. My areas of interest are health, globalization, race and ethnicity, and organizations.
Why did you both start going on medical missions?
Amber: When I was in high school I heard a woman speak about doing medical mission work in Papua New Guinea – from then on, I knew that I wanted to do it. As soon as I had my first clinic day in India, my first medical trip, I knew I was hooked. Little did I know that I would be where I am today in 8 years!
Jerry: I’ve been involved with international nonprofits for over a decade, so I’ve been interested in international work for a long time. I got into medical mission because, well, my wife!
Where was both of your first medical missions?
Amber: My first medical mission trip was to India.
Jerry: My first medical trip was to Ethiopia.
Why that particular region of Africa?
Honestly, it just fell into place. We were set to go to another country with a medical team and the trip fell through due to political unrest. The other co-founder, Dan, happen to know someone from college that was teaching in Ethiopia. We asked if we could bring a medical team in 5 weeks to Ethiopia and she said yes. She introduced us to Israel, who is now the Health Gives Hope Program Director in Ethiopia (4 of his siblings also work with us). Israel was our leader for the trip. Amber knew right away that Ethiopia was were we were suppose to work. And here we are 7 years later with a health center and teams going twice a year. Amazing!
What are some practical differences in the way you provide medical care in Ethiopia versus the US?
You have to make due with less. We have solar powered lights but that’s it for modern conveniences. No running water and limited supply of medications. We don’t have access to labs and diagnostic testing. In emergencies or for critically ill patients, we will transport them to the nearest hospital. But for the most part you use the patient history and exam to make your diagnosis and treatment plan. It is a challenge, but rewarding.
What do the villagers do day-to-day for medical cares/concerns when you do not have a group there?
We have a nurse that travels from a nearby town, Chencha, and works at the health center we run in Bora (Hidota Health Center). She works 3 days/week to provide care. If she is not there, the people either have to walk 6 miles to Chencha or they don’t go, which is usually the case.
Every nurse also has a patient experience that they can look back upon and say “I am a better nurse because of this person” or “I am a better nurse because of this particular patient experience”. What specific patient experience from Ethiopia has made you a better nurse?
On the 2nd trip to Ethiopia, we had our clinic set up in a local church and we were seeing patients there (the Hidota Health Center was still a few years away!). A father came frantically to the clinic and asked if I would come see his wife who had just given birth during the night. He just kept saying she was sick. I packed my backpack full of medical supplies – trying to think of every possible scenario I might encounter. We hiked down the mountain about a mile to their hut. A woman was lying there and clearly not doing well. After a quick assessment and history, I determined that she was severely dehydrated (she hadn’t had any water in about 36 hours – and delivered a baby in that time!) and she had a possible early infection. I gave her IV fluids and IV antibiotics. We stayed with her much of the afternoon until she turned the corner and started feeling better. I assessed the baby who was happy and healthy! By the time we left, the mom was able to sit up and drink water on her own. The family then told me that they decided to name their baby “Amber.” It was an incredible moment. I was so thankful we were there – otherwise, I am not sure that mom would have made it.
In nursing, we learn tricks of the trade in our day to day practice. I have a feeling that tricks of the trade in providing nursing care are a bit different in Ethiopia are different than in the US! What are some tricks of the trade or pro tips for nurses providing care with HCH in Africa?
Your face and tone says a thousand words! Since you are using 1 or 2 translators (sometimes you need translation from the local dialect to the national language to English), the people are really looking at your expressions. It really does make a huge difference. Also flexibility is a must – in all things, all the time.
Tell me some common rookie mistakes that nurses make during their first medical mission?
Honestly, there aren’t too many. It’s not a mistake but it’s common for nurses to feel bad about the times where we can’t provide the care that is needed (for example, medications or treatments that we don’t have). It can take time to realize that this is just part of working in a rural setting.
Tell me your biggest reality shock as a nurse when you first started serving missions?
I don’t know if I would call it a shock…but maybe an area of growth.. For me, learning to slow down and have patience. Things just don’t happen as quickly as I am used to or that I want them to. I have finally arrived at patience, for the most part.
Do nurses need to have a certain amount of experience to serve?
No – new nurses and seasoned nurses are welcome. As long as they are willing to serve, they can join!
Can nursing students serve?
Absolutely. I have also had NP students and I was able to serve as their preceptor for clinical hours.
What is the average cost?
The cost is $1500 for your land package (everything except souvenirs and vaccines) plus airfare. Airfare tends to run between $1300-1600 depending on your departure city.
When many people hear medical mission, they may connect it with a faith-based organization. Do you need to be of a certain faith to serve with your group? Our organization usually calls our trips “medical service trips.” No, you don’t need to be a certain faith.
I noted that you are based out of Chicago. Do people interested in serving need to be from that area? No – we have travelers from all over the country join us!
If I decide I want to serve or learn more, what are my next steps?
Email Amber at email@example.com The next trip is November 9-20, 2016 (then in April, 2017).
Next week, I’ll post an interview with my sister in-law (Elizabeth Kleber, MSN NP about her trip!
For those of you that may be interested in learning more, check out their website! Please note that while these trips are extremely rewarding, the travel can be very challenging physically. Upon arrival to Addis Abada, Ethiopia, you take a 10-12 hour bus ride, followed by another half day drive, then hike for half a day at an altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level up mountains. If you have specific questions/concerns about the travel and if it would be a good fit for you, shoot Amber an email! You’ll hear more about my sister in-law’s experience, both with the travel and her entire time, next week!
Have you ever been on a medical mission? If so, please comment below with where you went and which organization you worked with!