Student registered nurse anesthetists at the NorthShore University HealthSystem School of Nurse Anesthesia, Evanston, Ill., have the opportunity to practice their skills in an environment unlike any other. For the past two years, Bernadette Roche, CRNA, EdD, administrative director, has been taking students to Honduras to provide much needed medical care.
In the winter of 2012, one of Roche’s students wanted to volunteer at the Holy Family Surgery Center, an ambulatory surgical facility on the grounds of the Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH) Honduras home. The student needed a faculty member to accompany, so she went along.
“It was phenomenal,” said Roche. “[Hondurans] come on buses for their surgery—almost 50 miles.”
The surgery center was built by Peter and LuLu Daly, an orthopedic surgeon and his wife, who visited NPH, a self-sustaining ranch for Honduran orphans 23 miles outside the city of Tegucigalpa. They founded the surgery center on the ranch as a place for all Hondurans to receive free surgeries that would be commonplace in the United States. To have a procedure performed at any normal hospital in the country, patients have to purchase their own supplies, down to sutures and bandages.
“It really is an amazing facility,” said Roche, adding that staying there was relatively safe since it was so far from the city. Volunteers from all walks of life are needed to maintain the clinic—Roche said she even saw an airline pilot mopping the floor. She and her students stay there from seven to 10 days and work long hours, often 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., contending with a multitude of challenges foreign to U.S. hospitals—spotty electricity, outdated equipment, a lack of hot water, and no patient processing time.
“You really do feel like you make a difference,” she said. Roche remembers one patient, a woman who was attacked by a machete after fighting off an attempted rape, who returned to the clinic for help regaining the use of her hand. Roche didn’t recall caring for her during an earlier mission.
“She looked at me and, through a translator, said, ‘I remember you. I remember you because you have such kind eyes,’” said Roche.
The trip has a definite impact on NorthShore students as well. Roche said it seems like every one of her students wants to go now.
“Now it’s turned into something with a waiting list,” she said. “During their interviews, applicants are asking about the opportunity to go to Honduras.”
It seems like only one trip is enough to hook students—all who have gone to Honduras want to go back. A recent graduate of the program contacted her about returning. Roche said that if he doesn’t go to Honduras, he’ll pick another volunteer clinic around the world.
“I think I probably do this as much for myself as I do for the students,” said Roche, laughing.
Holy Family Surgery Center continues to grow and become more stable. The clinic is planning to build a recovery center, which will allow for overnight stays, as well as an improved dental clinic.
The clinic’s staffing is also being shored up. Because Peter and LuLu Daly only fly down three-to-four times a year, they are looking to bring on a full-time doctor to manage the clinic. The candidate grew up on the orphanage, and it paid for his medical degree due to his years of service.
With NorthShore involvement growing, Roche and her students will continue to make a world of difference. All costs associated with the trip for NorthShore students are covered by alumni donations.
Peter and Lulu Daly will be guest speakers at NorthShore’s graduation ceremony in August; four of the graduates went to Honduras with Roche in 2013.