SMU eNews

ABSN Students Return from Successful Medical Mission to Laos

A group of nursing students who traveled to Laos in December to provide services to underserved communities returned to Samuel Merritt University (SMU) with valuable lessons about their vocation that will influence them for years to come.

"This experience has forever changed the way I approach and view nursing and it is something that I know I will reflect back on throughout my career," said Olivia Morgan, who graduated just before the trip. "I am very grateful for all that the Laotian people taught me. I never expected that I would be the one walking away with more than I came with. It will definitely not be my last trip; I hope to go back very soon."

SMU faculty members Garry Johnson and Peter Miskin (San Francisco Peninsula Learning Center) and 18 SMU Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) students spent almost two weeks in the Southeast Asian country. This is the fourth trip to Laos organized by Johnson and Miskin.

The group worked in five communities in Laos, providing clinical services to 400 adults and 1,000 elementary school students.

"As a student nurse, this experience has had an enormous impact on how I now approach patient care," said Morgan, who received the overall achievement in clinical/academic excellence award during her cohort's Pinning ceremony in December. "Before the trip I had already begun to adopt the nursing perspective of holistic care, but my time in Laos solidified its true meaning. We not only provided health care to the Laotian people, we also had the opportunity to be involved in many different aspects of their lives."

The SMU group donated new textbooks and clinical equipment to 75 students at a local nursing school, where they also taught them health assessment and how to use the new equipment. All together, nearly $10,000 in new medical equipment and 2,400 pounds of medical supplies were provided.

"To be able to see what the people of Laos were able to do with so little was inspiring," said student Kanani Wong. "Healthcare providers in Laos do so much with so few resources, and they care deeply for their patients."

Wong said she liked interacting with the villagers at the clinics. "They were appreciative for any help we could provide," she said.

The students spent four months planning, preparing and fundraising for the trip. Their instructors invited one of the founders of the Center for Laos Studies in San Francisco to provide them with background about the country, including basic phrases and cultural dos and don'ts.

"We also read up on the country and learned the basic customs," said student Patricia Wong.

Wong said the students divided up job functions for the trip, with each participant taking a leading role in planning, organizing and gathering resources.

"For example, I led the pharmacy station and was responsible for getting the medications, with the help of my instructor. For each clinic day, I set up the pharmacy and became the pharmacy resource for the group," Wong said. "We gained leadership skills and also collaborated closely as a team."

The group spent four days teaching health and crafts at a teen culture center, and donated books, sports equipment and funds to improve the buildings and classrooms at elementary schools. The trip included a visit an elephant refuge, a cruise down the Mekong River, and experiencing local food and cultural events with families, monks, and communities.  

Partners for this mission included: the Lions' Club, with a donation of 500 pair of glasses; MedShare in San Leandro, which donated medical supplies; the California School of Podiatric Medicine, which provided guidance for the group's foot clinics; the Children's Culture Center in Luang Prabang, Hospital 107 in Luang Prabang, Nong Kiauw Hospital, Medical College of Luang Prabang, and the elementary schools in Ban Nae, Nong Kiauw, Kok Nan, and Nam Ng Villages.

Five local drivers, three translators and two local helpers also made the trip successful. 

"It was an awesome experience and I would recommend it to everyone," said Patricia Wong. "We come out of our comfort zone and immersed ourselves in a foreign environment. We brought our knowledge, skills and the physical resources we could carry with us. The experience taught us to do good for as many people as possible with limited resources."

Professor's Johnson and Miskin plan to take a new group of students to Belize in May, and will return to Laos in November.