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Providence staff provide needed medical procedures in Guatemala

Patients wait in line to receive surgery at Hilario Galindo Hospital in Retalhuleu, Guatemala. The mission group assessed about 80 patients and completed 68 surgeries.

Some nurses and physicians have found an antidote to workplace routines: traveling outside comfort zones. During an inaugural international medical mission, staff from Providence Health & Services in Southern California learned that new experiences can refresh attitudes.

Between Sept. 28 and Oct. 6, 28 people from Providence’s five acute care hospitals in Southern California worked at Hilario Galindo Hospital in Retalhuleu, Guatemala. They assessed about 80 patients and completed 68 surgeries for Guatemalans who didn’t have the means to obtain the care they needed.

While the team worked, the lights went out and the water stopped flowing. The air conditioner halted and the autoclave broke. The OR table had just a couple of positions, the instruments were clunky and thunderous storms rolled through every afternoon. But everyone had a great time.

“It was the best experience I’ve ever had,” said Lynn Miles, RN, BSN, CNOR, CRNFA, clinical educator of surgical services at Providence Tarzana (Calif.) Medical Center. “There was so much energy in the group. We never got tired. I came home so energized, I can’t even tell you. It woke me up and put a lot of life in me. I didn’t expect that.”

Paperwork, job descriptions and hierarchy were nowhere to be found in the old, low-tech hospital set in an impoverished town between the mountains. Instead, nurses pulled apart the malfunctioning autoclave, and surgical techs unpacked boxes and set up ORs. Katherine Bullard, RN, regional CNO for Providence, and Sister Colleen Settles, Order of Preachers, regional director of mission leadership, held the hands of patients and family members and explained the surgeries and aftercare. Politics never came into play.

“That’s what made it so great,” Miles said. “There, everybody was an equal. It didn’t matter if you were a doctor, a nurse or a translator. It was very simple. We had a limited amount of equipment and we just got the work done. [At home] the surgeons have endless options. When things aren’t perfect, it’s ‘go get that, run here, do that.’ They have so many options.”

Susan Olson, RN, BSN, an OR nurse at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in San Pedro, Calif., agreed. “Even the doctors were so happy,” she said. “You don’t see that in the regular workday. [In Guatemala] you’re like, ‘Who is this person?’ They were even cleaning the gurneys. Everyone just does what needs to be done. It’s like a family doing the greater good.”

The surgical team focused on hernia repair, laparoscopic cholecystectomies and “lumps and bumps.” Miles and Olson said the excited and grateful patients waited a long time for their shot at surgery, arriving at 6 a.m. and staying put, afraid they’d lose their spot in line.

“You can see it in their faces, their long wait is over with, and you can tell from their eyes how thankful they are,” Olson said. “The way they hold your hand, it’s like they give you energy and strength. They are so thankful. … I can’t tell you how much of a reward I got from this.”

Olson, who admitted her apprehension nearly led her to back out of the trip, said her fear evaporated when she saw everyone gathered to accomplish the same goal. Olson and Miles said the team cared not only for patients but also for each other, and everyone stayed well, happy and energized. The camaraderie of the team and the new zest the experience gave them inspired the nurses to welcome future mission opportunities and to encourage others to step outside their comfort zone, too.

To learn about medical missions, contact One Nurse At A Time at

By | 2020-04-15T09:28:57-04:00 December 17th, 2012|Categories: Regional, West|0 Comments

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