Traveling the world and engaging in humanitarian efforts abroad is what led me to pursue a career in nursing. So it's no wonder that I'm very passionate about global health and providing care to underserved communities.
I have been very fortunate to have traveled to many third world countries and engage in a variety of social endeavors. My very first trip was in 2008 to rural Kenya where I lived and volunteered at an orphanage for a summer. A few years later, I conducted field research for a NGO in Peru for a smoke-free stove project. A year later, I headed down to Nicaragua to volunteer with nurses at a rural, pop-up health clinic. And just this past year, I traveled to Ghana with a team of Vanderbilt students to provide free business consulting for a health-based NGO.
My Most Sustainable Impact...
When I reflect on the work I have done over the years, however, some of the most profound and life-changing impacts were achieved while here on US soil. After all, it's not always easy to pick up and go abroad for weeks or months at a time. These trips take a lot of planning (and fundraising, if you're a broke student like me). Plus, making a substantial impact is challenging when you have limited time on the ground abroad. I have found that when we incorporate global health into our everyday life, some of the biggest impacts can be made.
So how does one do that? Here are some ways I have engaged in global humanitarian efforts without leaving the US, and the impact I was able to make.
Join an organization
And I mean REALLY join one. There are countless global health organizations dedicated to amazing causes. . . from refugee support to AIDS research, hunger relief, clean water initiatives, and natural disaster aid. Which one resonates with you the most? Do some soul searching, be patient with exploring the various organizations, and then passionately become a voice for a cause. How?? Most organizations have opportunities to become an affiliate, join a university or community chapter, and organize or simply show up to fundraisers and events. The first step is to choose an organization that you can really, truly stand behind. Then take the extra step to promote it to your friends, family, colleagues, and social media networks. This, I promise you, will make a difference in the long run.
Start a Community or University Chapter
Want to take the last step even further? I did! During my senior year of undergrad, I not only wanted to join a global heath chapter, but I wanted to create one. So, I reached out to the organization Femme International, a NGO whose work abroad ignites major passion inside of me. Femme fights gender suppression and disease transmission by providing menstrual cups and sex education to young women in East Africa. They were thrilled that I was interested in being a voice for their cause. Within a few weeks, I had Femme's FIRST EVER university chapter established. I recruited students from all pre-health degrees to join the club, and four years later the chapter is still running strong. There have been thousands of dollars raised for Femme's cause and students continue to spread awareness of the health deficits abroad. Starting this chapter is hands-down the most sustainable, profound change I have made in global health. . . and I never even left the US!
Many organizations are eager to partner with you. All you have to do is ask!
Apply for the Nurse Corps or Nation Health Service Corps (NHSC)
In realizing that there's no way I can travel abroad as much as I would like to to contribute to global health (cause that would basically mean I'm moving to Africa. . .), I began seeking opportunities in the US that will allow me to work with similar populations. And the good news is, SO much of global health is right here in our own backyard. California, for example, has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees and immigrants over the past few decades. Texas, New York, and Michigan have also played a big part in resettling displaced and destitute populations. When these populations get to the US, many are extremely impoverished and in need of medical attention.
This is where we come in!
The Nurse Corps and NHSC help fund hundreds of US clinics that tend to these populations. Patients are treated for their illnesses regardless of citizenship, insurance status, or income. As a healthcare provider, working at one of these facilities is an opportunity to treat patients of various cultures and circumstances. It is also an opportunity to address rare diseases and extreme socioeconomic burdens. To me, it's simply a chance to help a human being in need.
Global Health with Local Roots
As a new member of the Nurse Corps, I cannot imagine dedicating only a few weeks of my time to global health. There are far too many beautiful cultures and such a dire need here at home. For me, global health is not just a trip abroad or something to be done during my vacation time each year. It can't be if I want to make a sustainable change. If we are passionate about really making a difference, the change must begin locally. Before we even board the plane. We must be willing to look around us and commit to the advocacy and work that is needed every day here at home.
About the author:
Angie Larson is a student nurse practitioner completing her final year of Vanderbilt University's Family Nurse Practitioner program. As a leader in her field, Angie is a huge advocate for global health and her career is centered on providing primary care to underserved communities. Upon her graduation in 2018 Angie will be joining the Nurse Corps to work with immigrants, refugees, and low-income populations. Follow Angie on Instagram!