Health Gives Hope: An Interview with a Nurse Practitioner Who Co-Founded a Medical Mission Organization

by | Jun 13, 2016 | Nurse Life | 0 comments

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.

Health Gives Hope: An Interview with a Nurse Practitioner Who Co-Founded a Medical Mission Organization

This post is my interview with the founders of Health Give Hope, Amber and Jerry Kaufman.

All answers below are from Amber, unless otherwise noted.

(Also, please note Jerry’s solid beard.)

Amber and Jerry!

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.

Providing patient care!

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!

My sister in-law (Elizabeth Fields) is second on the left. She’s an NP and the other three are nurses with about 1 year of experience!

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 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!

Do you know anything about Medical Mission? If not, let us share some information with you.

What is Medical Mission

The medical mission is a form of humanitarian aid that takes place in developing countries. What does this mean? It means that doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals from developed nations travel to developing nations as part of their jobs or vacations.

Goal Behing the Mission: The goals are many-fold: providing healthcare unavailable locally; bringing supplies; educating locals on how to care for themselves and others; assisting with social services like AIDS prevention, health education, etc.; improving infrastructure; and more.

The History Behind the Movement

The Medical Mission movement originated in the late 1800s. It was a time when there was extreme poverty and a lack of medical care for many people in developing countries, which led to high mortality rates across populations due to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, malaria, or cholera.

In response to this need for medical assistance outside their country borders, doctors from America and Europe established organizations that focused on providing healthcare internationally through collaboration with other groups working abroad (such as missionaries).

As more Americans traveled overseas during World War II as military personnel or Christian workers after the war ended, they encountered great poverty in these nations. They witnessed miracles happening among those who received prayer and healing.

What to Expect from a Medical Mission

The medical system of developing countries certainly differs significantly from the U.S. The typical day on a medical mission begins with breakfast, followed by morning prayer. After that, doctors and nurses will head out to the field for their first appointment of the day. 

What time they return depends mainly on how far away their patients are located; some may finish up as early as lunchtime while others might not be back until dinner-time or later. In addition to an arduous physical journey, many physicians also face mental challenges when treating people who have been neglected due to a lack of education about health care access.

Another difference is language – most often, English conversations occur between foreign workers, whereas local staff speak primarily Spanish or Portuguese (or another Indigenous Language).

It can sometimes mean that the hard work of translation falls on a single person, often a volunteer. But as one medical student reflected: “It’s an amazing experience to think about how much you’re able to do with language and communication skills.”

Missions in the U.S and Abroad

Every country has a different culture and has different needs. What may work in one country might not work for another. A medical mission trip can be expensive because it includes plane tickets to the Medical missions typically last between two weeks and three months depending upon the level of care needed by those who are being served, with surgical procedures taking longer than other types of services such as dental treatments.

The best time to go on a medical mission is during off-peak tourist season so that volunteers will have more opportunities for service rather than waiting in line behind many vacationers looking to take photographs or see animals from afar.

It’s worth noting that some people choose not to include travel expenses when calculating how much a medical mission might cost.

Benefits of volunteering on a medical mission

When it comes to the benefit, volunteering on a medical mission has many different rewards.

  • You get to help people in need.
  • Gain experience that will be on your resume
  • It’s good for the soul and makes you feel fulfilled.
  • One more thing is that it gives you a sense of purpose.
  • To enjoy a new experience.
  • Surgical experience (This is a sensitive area in some places as the nationals’ perception may be that you are coming to practice on them.)
  • Personal satisfaction – You may want to visit another otolaryngologist overseas for your knowledge.

Have you ever been on a medical mission? Share your experience with us in the comment section, thanks for reading.

Picture of Kati Kleber, founder of FRESHRN

Hi, I’m Kati.

Kati Kleber, MSN RN is a nurse educator, author, national speaker, host of the FreshRN® Podcast, and owner of FreshRN® – an online platform created to educate, encourage, and motivate newly licensed nurses in innovative ways.

Connect with her on YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, and sign-up for her free email newsletter for new nurses.


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