Q & A With Volunteer Nurse Carolyn Springman

February 22, 2011

Carolyn is a Registered Nurse, Oncology from San Francisco, California. She is currently serving on her second mission with Project HOPE in Ghana as part of the U.S. Navy's Africa Partnership Station 2011.

Why did you decide to volunteer with Project HOPE?

It may sound strange but my interest in the welfare of others began in my grandparent's living room, where, each morning, before school, as a child I watched television and always saw documentary-style commercials by non-profit groups trying to raise money for sick children and poor communities. The faces and images that flashed across the screen depicted a degree of poverty and catastrophic disease that my 10 year old naive eyes had never seen before, let alone even knew existed. From that point on, my dream became to someday work with populations similar to those I saw on television. Fifteen years later, the desires I had as a little girl from small town Pennsylvania never left my heart, so as a young adult in a brand new nursing career, I decided to do something about it. After a lot of research and patience, I found Project HOPE. When I stumbled upon their website, after what seemed like an eternity of researching various organizations, I said to myself, "This is it! I have to be part of their team." For the first time, I came upon of group of people who had the same vision, beliefs and goals as I did. I was determined to get involved.

How will your experience as a registered nurse in the U.S. help you on an overseas mission with Project HOPE?

Working in the field of oncology is both physically and emotionally demanding. A diagnosis of cancer is never an easy one. One of the hardest parts for me as a health care provider is knowing that each one of my patients is about to enter the ring for the biggest fight of their lives, many of whom have no idea when the next punch is coming or how deeply the impact will effect them. The second part of that, and the most difficult for me, is knowing what each patient is up against and recognizing that the odds of walking away with a win, in many cases, are not in their favor. Because I am an inpatient nurse at a research and teaching hospital, I see a lot of patients with complex disease processes. It's not uncommon to hear, "Mrs. A has a poor prognosis or Mr. B is receiving salvage chemotherapy as a last stitch effort." It's tough. There are moments when I start to really feel what's going on around me. At times, it weighs heavily on me. During those moments, I recognize the need to kind of step back a little bit and take a breather, talk about it, reflect, but then eventually you just have to take a deep breath and jump back into the ring with them. At the end of the day, we are team, we are in it together.

My experiences caring for patients at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center should prove to be very beneficial while treating patients in Ghana for Project HOPE. Working at a large teaching hospital allows me the opportunity to work with culturally diverse populations bringing forth many unique challenges.

Because we see such a large volume of patients, efficiency is key. Many times we have patients waiting at home until there is an available bed on our unit. When I traveled with Project HOPE to Colombia and Panama in 2009 and later with another organization to Haiti, that was one of the biggest challenges we faced -- seeing as many patients as possible without affecting the quality of care. At the end of the day, working with patients here in the United States and working with those from impoverished nations, aside from the obvious, really aren't all that different when you think about it. Both, although worlds apart, are experiencing similar physical and emotional challenges. In Ghana, I will be working alongside a Ghanaian physician in the medical wards at Effia Nkwanta Regional Hospital as well as local outside clinics. I will also be lecturing on oncology nursing and the management of patients when back at home after receiving chemotherapy and radiation for treatment of cancer.

What are the benefits of being a medical volunteer?

The benefits of volunteering on missions for Project HOPE are immeasurable. Since my first experience in 2009, I have yet to be involved in something so rewarding in both my personal and professional life. You can't put a value on the experiences and lessons you gain from being a part of something that literally changes someone's life. Whether it involves a life-saving medical procedure, providing necessary medications, or simply making someone smile, it's something that these people will carry with them and remember for the rest of their lives. I know I have.

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