An Adventure in Caring

Senior Nicole Roque gained new nursing skills and a proactive perspective on community care during a mission to the Dominican Republic last summer.

It's not every day that a volunteer nurse receives a large potato sack filled with tropical fruits in appreciation for her efforts. So when a grateful elderly man brought such a gift to Nicole Roque and her colleagues in the tiny Dominican Republic village of Venu last summer, it was one of the highlights of an already rewarding experience. Roque, a senior in the School of Nursing and Health Studies, was on her second trip to the island nation as a member of Belen Youth Mission, an annual event organized by the priests of Miami's Belen Jesuit Preparatory School. In addition to Belen students, alumni, and parents, participants typically include physicians and nurses. Last summer Sofia Morales, a pediatric nurse practitioner and clinical instructor at UM, was also in the group.

As nurses, we have the ability to reach out and improve people's lives with care and education both around the world and right here at home.

In addition to completing a project that improves a rural town's infrastructure, such as a new bridge or well, the Belen group operates an area clinic. At last year's clinic, Roque, Morales, and the physicians provided more than 1,300 local residents with checkups, vitamins, and medications. Roque had learned how to take vital signs, perform triage, and assist with patient care basics on her first trip, which was to the village of Yaroa. This past summer, having completed her junior year at UM's nursing school, she was ready for new challenges.

"I did a lot of hands-on work and learned about things ranging from rare skin diseases to simple bedside manners," Roque says. "We made sure each patient understood the importance of proper nutrition, avoiding excessive sun exposure, controlling blood pressure and blood glucose levels.

"A lot of the townspeople had never received medical attention before, yet they were very good about following up with us after they'd been given some education and guidance," Roque adds. "And I've never experienced such gratitude. The man who brought us all those fruits very likely had no other source of income, so that was especially touching."

Roque plans to continue her nursing education after she graduates in May. Though she hasn't yet decided which specialty she will focus on for her master's degree, she is determined to pursue her passion for community service. "You go on these trips wishing you could do more for others, and then you discover that you can," she says. "As nurses, we have the ability to reach out and improve people's lives with care and education both around the world and right here at home."