Flower City to the Sacred Valley How the UR School of Nursing and a volunteer trip to southern Peru helped prepare me for my nursing career

By Amanda Hyman ’17N

After I graduated nursing school, I took a three-month break to volunteer in Peru before starting my first nursing job. This decision did not come out of nowhere. In fact, I planned on joining the Peace Corps after nursing school as a public health worker in Tanzania. But during my third semester of the Accelerated Bachelor’s Program for Non-Nurses (APNN) I got sick and was disqualified from being in the Peace Corps.

Amanda Hyman, a 2017 ABPNN grad, volunteered at the Ayni Wasi clinic in Ollantaytambo for three months, helping to instruct women on how to serve as health care workers or promatoras for their community.

I was very disappointed, and I turned to my nursing instructors for support. I spoke to Elaine Andolina, then the co-director of the APNN program, who reminded me about a clinic that was started by a School of Nursing alumna named Keri Baker ’11N. It was called Ayni Wasi and located in Ollantaytambo, an ancient village set between the Urubamba River and the Andes Mountains in the Sacred Valley of south Peru.

Villagers dressed in traditional clothing take to the streets of Ollantaytambo for an all-day festival. The small village in the Sacred Valley of southern Peru dates back to the 15th century but due to its altitude and remoteness, residents have little access to clinics or formal health care.

I spoke to Elaine and my med-surg instructors – Valerie Fitzgerald, Carolanne Bianchi, and Pam Brady – about the opportunity. Volunteering in Peru meant turning down job offers and taking a gamble that I could interview and get hired for a job that was a full six months away. All of my instructors and Elaine encouraged me to go to Peru. The right fit of a nursing job will come along, they assured me. And they were right. I found a job two weeks before departure at Duke University Health System that would accept me for a new grad residency program.

But first, Peru.

I boarded the plane and headed down to South America. At Ayni Wasi, they work with women who live in the high-altitude communities of the Andes. The ladies that come to Ayni Wasi speak the indigenous language of Quechua, make their own clothes by hand, and learn mainly by visual teachings. The communities have very little access to clinics or medical care, so the women come to Anyi Wasi to become promatoras, or health workers. Ayni Wasi teaches them important lessons on topics such as wound care, sex education, birth control options, and nutrition. A few weeks into my trip, Keri and her staff came to Ollantaytambo to teach the ladies about wilderness first aid. This included disaster training, how to make a stretcher or carry a sick person out, hypo/hyperthermia treatments, and lightning safety.

With my UR School of Nursing education, I was well-prepared to bring my knowledge and skills to Peru. I saw a lot of the public health issues that we discussed in class, such as a literacy and barriers to education. The promatoras have about a third-grade education, and thus the lessons were done via pictures and hands-on activities. The ladies learned very quickly, and it was similar to the “teach back” method from school.

For bathrooms, the community members use the stream that runs all over the city, however people also drink from the same stream. A lot of community members have parasites, and Ayni Wasi holds vitamin and anti-parasite clinics in addition to teaching about hand-washing and hygiene. For the parasite clinics, we gave vitamin A and a broad spectrum anti-parasite medicine to children. Previously, the kids were given the medicine plain, and they did not like the taste of it. I used my nursing knowledge to research the medicine and see if it had any interactions with food. It did not, so for future vitamin and anti-parasite clinics, Ayni Wasi could instead mix the medicine with yogurt or applesauce to make the experience more pleasant for the kids.

After my three months in Peru had ended, it was time to come back home to the states. I started my job as an emergency room nurse at Duke in February 2018. Looking back now, I have great appreciation for the resources we have at our access, and the education I received, both formally in school and informally in Peru. And I maintain a great admiration and respect for Ayni Wasi and the promatoras that live in the Andes mountain communities.

Amanda Hyman is a graduate of the UR School of Nursing Accelerated Bachelor’s Program for Non-Nurses and now works as an emergency room registered nurse at Duke University Health System.