Future FAU Nurse Practitioners to Head to Guatemala

Twenty-two registered nurses studying to become nurse practitioners in FAU’s Lynn College of Nursing will join professors on a trip that will transform their lives and how they think about providing healthcare.

Rhonda Goodman, Ph.D., assistant professor in FAU’s College of Nursing and a board certified family nurse practitioner is spearheading the study abroad program in Guatemala.

By gisele galoustian | 2/11/2016

Twenty-two registered nurses studying to become nurse practitioners will accompany professors from the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University on a study abroad trip to Guatemala that will forever change their lives and how they think about the delivery of healthcare.

The first of two, week-long trips for the nurse practitioner students will begin on Saturday, Feb. 20 in Antigua, Guatemala, 2,000 meters atop a mountain in one of the most rural parts of the country. Indigenous Maya have called it home since 1960, following the brutal 36-year-long civil war that killed more than 200,000 natives. These Maya live in extreme poverty and on average make about $1 a day. Families of eight and nine children inhabit small huts made of dirt and straw, cook on open fires, and survive on what they are able to farm. Their main source of food is corn – animal protein is difficult to come by limiting their intake to one to two times a month. Access to water also poses many challenges, requiring them to travel by foot at least four miles each way just to find clean water.

“As a result of their harsh and extreme living conditions, indigenous Maya are inflicted with a number of health conditions including type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, musculoskeletal problems, roundworms caused by parasites, and malnutrition, which causes physical and cognitive growth issues in the children,” said Rhonda Goodman, Ph.D., assistant professor in FAU’s College of Nursing and a board certified family nurse practitioner who is spearheading the program in the college.

This is Goodman’s fourth year coordinating this vital outreach program in Guatemala, which has provided primary care services to more than 4,000 patients and saved countless lives in the process. While in Guatemala, Goodman and the nurses will set up clinics and will team up with local health care workers and interpreters. By the time they arrive there, they expect to have in excess of 400 patients lined up each day eagerly waiting to see the “Americans.”

Goodman and her students will have to rely on the bare necessities to provide medical care – stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, tongue depressors, sterile gloves, and glucometers. And perhaps one of the most critical supplies they will be bringing with them is acetic acid or vinegar to screen for cervical cancer. Vinegar is used as an effective way to screen for the human papilloma virus as well as cervical cancer in developing countries and has the same sensitivity as a Pap smear. Precancerous tissue turns white when vinegar is applied, while healthy tissue does not change color. The results are known immediately and if it’s pre-cancerous, local physicians use cryotherapy to freeze the cells and prevent the disease from further developing. Best of all, the procedure costs about $1 per patient.

“This is nursing at its most basic form,” said Goodman. “We treat our patients empirically by what we see, what we hear, what we smell and what they tell us. We don’t have X-rays, EKG machines, MRIs and any other equipment you would typically find in a clinic or healthcare facility here or in other developed countries.”

Goodman also has established a collaborative network of partnerships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Guatemala to provide an important network to ensure that there is appropriate follow-up for patients who need additional care.    

“It can be overwhelming,” said Goodman. “But I tell our future nurse practitioners just focus on one patient at a time.”

FAU’s College of Nursing is internationally known for its commitment to nursing as a discipline focused on nurturing the wholeness of persons and the environment through Caring. The College advances Caring knowledge through education, practice, research and scholarship to transform care locally, nationally and globally. Currently, the College of Nursing offers bachelor’s, master’s, DNP and Ph.D. degree programs with approximately 1,600 nursing students enrolled in its programs. For more information, visit www.nursing.fau.edu.