Six students in USD’s master’s entry program in nursing made history last June when they boarded the USNS Mercy in Da Nang, Vietnam, for its humanitarian cruise. Abigail Chua, Catherine Chung, William Flores, Kimberly Fong, Jacqueline Iseri, and Patrick McNichols were the first nursing students ever to serve aboard the Navy hospital ship.
For five weeks, the students and Kathleen Templin, an adjunct professor, lived onboard, working in the shipboard pediatric and med-surgical wards and in shore-based clinics in Cambodia. That day in Da Nang harbor, they could not anticipate all that they would give and all that they would take home.
Commander Robin Tyler, chief anesthetist during the students’ tour, remembered, “the MEPNs were awesome. They were very energetic, and we used them everywhere: in screening clinics, peds, med-surg, the onshore clinics. They did everything we assigned them and we assigned them a lot.”
The students from USD’s Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science learned to work through their interpreters, to admit and discharge patients quickly and to care for multiple patients in a shift. They learned the practicalities of culturally sensitive care. After surgery for kidney stones, a 16-year-old Cambodian girl wouldn’t eat. Chua learned that at Cambodian hospitals, patients were expected to bring their own food. On the Mercy, patients weren’t permitted to bring food aboard and the meals served in the ward were unfamiliar. Chua needed to find something she’d eat; they settled on pancakes and dry cereal.
“It was a great experience to live with the military,” said Fong. “What awed me most was that they work so hard, 13-14 hour days and they never complained. They earned my total respect.”
They came home changed by the experience. Chua was disturbed by the status of women in the countries they visited. A female patient had serious scarring from acid burns inflicted by her husband for refusing to work as a prostitute. The trip made Chua reflect on her blessings and shaped her decision to to serve on future humanitarian missions.
McNichols rethought his commitment to service; he’s applied to the Navy Nurse Corps. Before the Mercy, Flores figured he’d work in an emergency or operating room. What he saw in Cambodia “opened my mind and my heart to public health.” He’s applied to the U.S. Public Health Corps.
The MEPN students made history on the Mercy and in their own lives. All six say they’ll look for other opportunities for international service.
— Barbara Davenport
The full version of this story will appear in this fall’s USD Nursing Times.
Main photo courtesy of Edward G. Martens