University of Tulsa nursing student Laura Nichols packed her bags to spend the summer working in the emergency and trauma room at a public hospital in Arequipa, Peru.
She witnessed how citizens who needed stitches would have to first be written a prescription, pay the fee, then return with the supplies before being treated. “They were able to turn people away who didn’t have a true emergency, and the process of evaluating to helping the patient moved much slower,” Nichols explained. The patient must pay for all services and supplies, including the syringe and gloves the doctor uses, before the procedure can be performed.”
On her days off work, she explored the country and learned more about the culture of Peru. “I hiked the second largest canyon in the world, Colca Canyon, from bottom to top. I visited Lake Titicaca, did a homestay with Peru natives and even sand boarded in Huacachina,” she said.
During her time in Peru, Nichols learned various skills that have impacted her education; She learned how to effectively communicate with others in her care, despite a language barrier. “The experience really made me rely on nonverbal therapeutic communication that is emphasized in our classes at TU,” she explained.
As she reminisced about the experience, one moment stuck with her: “A women was crossing the street, fell and dislocated her shoulder. A man on his way to work grabbed her out of the street and brought her to our ER. She had no ID, so we could not identify her or contact her closest family member,” Nichols explained, who was shocked to see how the news spread throughout the community. Eventually, it reached the patient’s son on the other side of the city.
Nichols is volunteering with the Junior Women’s Association of Tulsa and the Tulsa Boys’ Home and is also a member of the young professional’s board for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. She said that she loves giving her time to each organization and advocating for those in need within the local community.
Working toward a better future
Her international service in the medical field is extensive. As a sophomore, she spent the winter of 2019 spearheading the development of training videos for childcare workers in Nigeria. This work is a collaborative effort between TU’s School of Nursing, the TU Student Nurses’ Association (TUSNA) and Little Light House, a Tulsa organization that provides educational and therapeutic services to young children with special needs.
Across TU programs emphasize connections between the university and community partners. In the School of Nursing each year, TUSNA undertakes a community-development project. Little Light House had approached TUSNA about creating the videos to teach Nigerian workers at an orphanage and school run by Right Steps Inc., a U.S.-registered 501(c)3 that supports women and children in southeast Nigeria. TUSNA members agreed this was a worthy project. As the organization’s service chair, Nichols organized her fellow student volunteers to write scripts and coordinate with the videographer.
Simple childcare techniques for minimizing disease
“Many of the people who care for children in Nigeria are passionate about their work, but they lack access to the knowledge and skills necessary to minimize disease,” Nichols observed. She noted they also face many physical challenges, such as having to draw water from a river contaminated by sewage run-off.
TUSNA’s videos exemplify both community partnership and global connectedness. They cover a range of essential topics, including hand hygiene, diaper-changing, nutrition appropriate to the region and bathing. The Nigerian workers, Nichols explained, “can go through our training program, earn a certificate and work at that orphanage, school or other health care facilities in the area.”
The initiative supports both individuals and their communities, Nichols said. “Studies have shown that with preventative measures in place, you can add a decade to your life. So, this training will change not only the orphanage and school in Nigeria. It’s also going to benefit the community as a whole because these workers are going to take the information home to their families and their villages.”
A network of support and opportunity
In late March 2019, Nichols received a NOVA Fellowship to support the video project. “This fellowship opened more doors for us,” Nichols said. “As a result, we were able to do the professional videography in late April. We then edited the materials and sent them to Little Light House by June,” Nichols continued. “I would really like to thank NOVA, Little Light House, the School of Nursing and TUSNA for helping us make such a great impact across the world. We couldn’t have done it without them, and I’m really excited to see where this will take us.”
Nichols said she enjoyed working with Little Light House because she’d never been involved in pediatrics or with children who live with disabilities. “It’s opened my eyes to other possibilities in nursing, as well as to unmet needs here in Tulsa and all around the world,” she explained. “And the people at Little Light House are so friendly and helpful and willing to answer all your questions.”
After graduating from TU, she hopes to become a global nurse.