Mobilizing health care
Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing
Nursing student Tiffany Vuong (’17) is getting a global education in providing quality care
By Erinn Connor
Loyola medical and nursing students take service trips all over the world—from Rome to Mexico to Belize—but Tiffany Vuong (’17) picked a more unusual destination: Albania.
The small country in southeast Europe is mostly known for its beautiful coastlines, but Vuong went with another purpose in mind. She traveled there with Volunteers Around the World, an organization that has special medical and dental outreach destinations worldwide. “Since I started nursing school, I have always wanted to experience working in an international setting and to seek deeper understandings about patients with different backgrounds,” says Vuong.
That’s a goal for many students in the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. Niehoff students have an opportunity to practice nursing in multiple destinations across the globe, including service trips to Belize, Rome, England, and France. Such trips involve medical education, clinic work, and spiritual care. Many students also participate in Ignatian Service Immersion trips offered by University Ministry that focus on addressing health inequalities and their causes in countries around the world.
Vuong traveled to Albania earlier this year with four other Loyola students and two students from Valdosta State University in Georgia. Before even getting on the plane, Volunteers Around the World interviewed local doctors to figure out where the underserved communities were and who needed the most help. During the two-week trip, the mobile clinic consisting of Vuong and other volunteers travelled to four villages: Pashalli, Bistrovice, Vokopole, and Skrevan, all in the city of Berat in the south-central part of the country.
Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe as it has suffered from an unstable government for many years. It has no centralized health system, and infectious disease and chronic illnesses are often left untreated. Most people cannot afford the quality care available at private hospitals, and a majority of the population also live in rural areas, adding another obstacle to getting treatment.
Throughout her time in those villages, Vuong and her fellow volunteers helped nearly 250 patients, some with potentially serious illnesses who were unable to find proper treatments. Vuong says she saw children with prolonged ear infections and adults with diabetes who couldn’t get to the city for a checkup or the appropriate medications. “Our mobile clinic was the closest thing to health care that many of them had ever received,” she says.
Their work mainly consisted of shadowing and assisting doctors, taking vital signs and patient histories, and educating patients on nutrition, hygiene, and more. Despite the language barrier and sometimes long lines for treatment, Vuong says the appreciation from patients was palpable. Seeing the limited access to medical treatment firsthand helped solidify her desire to bring care to disadvantaged populations.
“Being able to witness the health disparities and the lack of proper medical treatment helped me recognize the privileges that I held being in a developed country,” she says. “It also taught me to be more patient and flexible in terms of working with a unique health care team, which consisted of local Albanian doctors, nurses, and other students who wished to pursue their careers in different areas of health care.”
Vuong has continued pursuing international service opportunities, including a research trip to Uganda this summer, and encourages her fellow students to do the same. “It is very important for us, as future health care professionals in a developed country, to have these similar exposures abroad,” she says. “Because of this experience, I’ve realized that the scope of nursing practice does not just end with taking good care of our patients. It is also about challenging and educating ourselves to be more culturally competent and globally aware.”