Not many of us can say that we’ve traveled half way around the world to bring medical care to impoverished, indigenous populations, but Cindy Tryniszewski, RN, MSN, can. This kind of medical mission trip is not new for her. Cindy has been to Bolivia twice. Her latest mission took her to Uganda.
Cindy is executive director of Clinical eLearning for Elsevier. She is also a member of and secretary for the Board of Directors of Project Helping Hands (PHH), a not-for-profit humanitarian organization that provides health care interventions and education for people in third world countries. PHH sends teams of volunteers on medical missions to deliver care and to develop sustainable, locally run health promotion and prevention programs while facilitating safe and affordable personal growth opportunities for its volunteers. These volunteers bring both vital medical care to local residents and education to health care providers with the goal of having them become self-sufficient and able to continue providing these services after the PHH team departs. The organization was founded by Jeff Solheim, MSN, RN-BC, CEN, CFRN, FAEN, in 1994. Since then, PHH has sent hundreds of volunteers to help the poorest populations in the most remote areas of the world.
Cindy has been part of two previous PHH trips to Bolivia in 2011 and 2013. The focus of these trips was to establish a five-year plan to provide continuing education for physicians, nurses, and first responders. The Uganda trip was her first hands-on mission. She traveled as part of a 12-member team made up of nurses, nurse practitioners, a physician, and a nonmedical volunteer. The group completed a 13-day medical mission, bringing health care services and patient education to roughly 2,200 patients in the slums of Kawempe and in the remote village of Nangaiza.
In addition to Cindy, several other PHH team members have connections to Elsevier. The team leader, Jean A. Proehl, RN, MN, CEN, CPEN, FAEN, is the author of Emergency Nursing Procedures. Another team member, Chris Gisness, RN, MSN, FNP, CEN, FAEN, is a contributor to Sheehy’s Emergency Nursing: Principles and Practice, 6th edition. Team member Kat Hammond, BSN, RN, CEN, recently published an article in the Journal of Emergency Nursing.
The First Step: Preparation
Long before they touched down in Uganda, PHH volunteers were busy preparing for the trip. The team leader, Jean Proehl, had conducted an education needs assessment during two earlier trips to Uganda. Some of the education deficits identified included back pain, breast self-exam, handwashing, ring worm and pinworms, oral hygiene, sex education, and women’s hygiene.
In preparing for this trip, Jean worked with Cindy, who had been designated as the team’s director of education, to create education guides. Each member of the team volunteered to write one or more guides and then Cindy edited and compiled all of the documents. The guides were translated before the trip so they would be ready when the team arrived in Uganda.
Besides working on the education guides, Cindy began stockpiling prescription and over-the-counter medications, reading glasses, clothes, and gifts—all items that the native population might need—about six months before actually departing for Uganda. With support from her manager at Elsevier and family members, Cindy was able to embark on this journey.
Volunteers in Action
On arrival in Uganda, the team set up a clinic area that included several stations, each set off by curtains, at each location. The stations served as treatment rooms, a dental clinic, an eyeglass clinic, a pharmacy, a laboratory, and a prayer station. A social worker facilitated referrals to area hospitals, physicians, and diagnostic testing facilities. The team provided everything from treatment for acute conditions to dental care to eye glasses—all accompanied by generous amounts of patient education. They treated a wide range of conditions that included sexually transmitted diseases and HIV, tuberculosis, malaria (especially in children under 5 years of age), back pain, epigastric distress, worms, and cough. While patients waited in long lines to be seen in the clinic, Cindy provided patient education. She worked with local translators with the expectation that the translators could learn to conduct education sessions after the PHH team returned to the U.S. The translators rose to the challenge. They were conducting the education sessions on their own within a few days.
For Cindy, the most memorable moment of the trip came when she was approached by a young woman at a local church. The woman asked if Cindy could treat her skin condition. Cindy asked her to come to the clinic the next day. When the woman arrived for treatment, she mentioned that she had performed a breast self-exam and found a lump. She had learned about breast self-exams at the education session the day before. The woman was referred to an oncology specialist at a local hospital.
“This incident really underscores for me the importance of continuing to provide health education to the Ugandans,” Cindy says.
Describing her experience as “culturally transforming,” Cindy continues: “People waited for up to 10 hours to be seen at the clinic, and we had to turn many people away every day,” she says. “They would come back the next day. Nobody complained and everyone was so appreciative of anything we did for them, even if it was only providing a $1 pair of reading glasses.”
Cindy witnessed firsthand how the volunteers were able to significantly improve or even save a life. One woman, who had a prolapsed uterus that was so uncomfortable it kept her bedbound, had come to the clinic during a previous PHH trip. PHH arranged for her to have surgery. Now her quality of life is almost back to normal. The woman returned to the clinic to thank everyone for the care she had received.
Cindy will be returning, too. She has already signed on for PHH’s next trip to Uganda in February 2015.
Project Helping Hands is currently planning several return trips to Uganda along with other medical missions to Bolivia, Kenya, Peru, and the Dominican Republic. To learn more about Project Helping Hands and opportunities to volunteer, visit the Project Helping Hands website at http://projecthelpinghands.org.