28 March 2011

Advanced practice nursing is an option?

In the Czech educational system, a public school student can choose to concentrate studies along a technical or professional path beginning at age 14, or what we in the United States consider high school. For instance, a student accepted to a health-career school would have a curriculum that follows a scientific and biological course, with clinical experiences in health care. After four years, the student can decide to pursue nursing, medical or allied health programs at the university level, go a completely different direction with university studies, or simply enter the workforce.

This past week, I was invited to speak at a health-career school in a neighboring community on the subject of health care in the United States. My audience was comprised of third- and fourth-year students, ages 17 to 18. The students submitted questions in advance, which gave me an idea of the type of information they were interested in.

They wanted to know a bit about me; where I went to school, where I had worked and in what section of the hospital. In fact, the assumption was that all my experience was in a hospital setting. In the Czech Republic, there are few nursing jobs outside hospitals, so, when I mentioned the many different roles nurses fill in the U.S. system, the students were quite surprised. I also identified and explained available levels of nursing education, including advanced practice possibilities, and this came as a downright shock to the students. They had never heard of an expanded nursing role, even though it exists in Europe with practitioners in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland.

I had been warned that Czech students are not interactive, and I should not expect them to engage in dialog. However, the discussion about opportunities in nursing and advanced practice spurred many questions and interaction that surprised the class teacher. She admitted, once the discussion had ended, that she was amazed at the amount of interest the students had expressed and how engaged they were with questions. I hope I planted a seed of curiosity in my audience that may lead them to explore the many ways nurses can contribute to the health of their nation. The possibilities are exciting.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

17 March 2011

The sign of the comet

I’ve often said it is the variety in my U.S. Foreign Service job that keeps me enthralled, especially since I seem to have a rather short attention span. In my career, no two posts have even been similar, much less the same. The Czech Republic has been a huge change from my previous developing-country assignments and, with a more typical list of medical complaints, I admit I was getting a bit soft.

Then, the mites arrived! One of our young officers came to me with a profusion of itchy, whelped, pink bites on her posterior thighs. Honestly, I didn’t know what the cause could be, and since the bites were in a defined location, it didn’t seem like a major issue. That was in the morning. When she returned in the afternoon, the bites were weeping, enlarged and had taken on a purple hue. My comfort level dropped to zero, and we arranged for her to see a dermatologist immediately.

The dermatologist was less concerned, because she knew what the cause was—a severe reaction to mites! Mites? Where did they come from, and why now? It is winter in Prague. Do mites attack in winter? A bit skeptical, I forwarded photos to a dermatology consultant in Washington, D.C. His reply was, “Yep, mites.” The dead giveaway was the “comet sign” coming off one of the lesions. (A comet sign is a red streak leading away from the central area). The two dermatologists disagreed on the source. One believed the mites were related to birds, and the other thought they were connected to woodborers, but both were certain the lesions were caused by a severe reaction to mite bites.

This is where my job gets really interesting. If I was in a usual practice in the United States, I would refer my patient to a dermatologist, who would prescribe treatment, and we would be finished with the issue. Not so in the Foreign Service. The ongoing saga of investigating why there are mites in this officer’s home, determining which chemicals are safe—and OSHA approved—to treat the infestation, photographing and cataloging new bites as they have appeared, discussing with various embassy offices about what’s best to do—all have involved me.

I know more about mites today than I knew three weeks ago and more than I ever thought I would need to know. It is fascinating, really! And to the long list of “jack-of-all-trade” tasks the Foreign Service has required of me, I can now add exterminator!

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

03 March 2011

Six days in Malta

I have just returned from six days in Malta. It would be a great spot to vacation, but I was there strictly for work. The U.S. Department of State Office of Medical Services, known in governmentese as MED, sent a psychiatrist and me to support Americans being evacuated out of Libya. Before they could be evacuated to Malta, 300 of these evacuees spent two harrowing days aboard a ferry anchored in the port of Tripoli, while they waited for seas calm enough to travel. This group included children, pregnant women and elderly people, all of whom were at higher risk for such travel. They slept on the floor three nights, ate mostly snack food and had no shower facilities.

On the third day, they were finally cleared to travel to Malta and then motored through high seas and rough water. Most were seasick and exhausted when they, at last, arrived. Still, considering that experience and all they went through prior to reporting to the ferry, when tensions in Tripoli were high and the situation was increasingly dangerous, they all looked remarkably good.

I believe the emotional trauma was the worst of the suffering. People left their homes and nearly everything else behind, perhaps never to see them again. They left Libyan friends and colleagues to an uncertain future. They left beloved pets that were not allowed to travel on the ferry. I heard of at least one family that witnessed people being shot in the street. Their children were clearly distressed. The psychological healing will take some time.

Fortunately, there were no serious illnesses or injuries on the vessel. The physical complaints were mostly the effects of exhaustion, seasickness and the benign, nonspecific physical symptoms that follow the decrease of stress hormones after they have been elevated for an extended period of time.

I have worked through crisis situations before, but never an evacuation. I was extremely impressed with its planning and execution. The staff of the American embassy in Malta really did their homework, and I don’t believe they left a single contingency unexplored. In addition, the Maltese government provided relief workers, ambulances and supplies, and the Maltese Red Cross provided personnel and equipment for escort. The whole episode was a finely tuned operation that went off without a hitch, which was very encouraging since the American-chartered vessel was the first to arrive. Other followed that evening and in succeeding days.

PHOTO: U.S. Ambassador to Malta Douglas W. Kmeic welcomes evacuees from Libya as they exit the ferry. Michael Avina, photographer.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.