Elizabeth Harrison is a Family Nurse Practitioner in the Women’s Clinic at Student Health Services. For the past year she has been meeting with students individually to address preventative medicine and reproductive health.
What prompted you to begin working at Student Health Services and why did you choose to work with students?
The college and young adult years are such a crucial time for forming healthy lifestyles so I was very excited to work with the students through Student Health Services (SHS) to educate and encourage students to make healthy lifestyle choices that will impact them for the rest of their lives. The women’s clinic is such a great place to work because I get to answer questions that students may not feel comfortable asking or have reliable information in other places. Yet, these questions are extremely important! I have the chance to empower the female students to keep their bodies and minds as healthy as possible without having to rely on Hollywood for health information.
In what ways do you educate the patients you see on living healthier lifestyles?
There are a few simple things that I like to focus on in educating my patients. I want them to learn as much as they can about their bodies. Part of this is allowing them to ask questions about anything. Another part is teaching them how to recognize changes from their normal, such as doing self breast exams. The more patients know about what is normal for them, the more they can recognize small changes and address them early. I also discuss simple, though not always easy, lifestyle practices that support healthy physical, mental, and emotional health. These are things like moderate exercise most days of the week, increasing fruit and vegetable intake, and limiting alcohol. I try to help them set manageable goals. For those that are not exercising at all, this might be adding 10 minutes a day to start out. I also educate them about safety practices, like keeping a friend with them when they are at a party, keeping their drinks with them, etc.
Have you ever provided health care to other communities outside of the Bryan/College Station area?
Yes, I worked as a registered nurse in cardiac care in Utah and in Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C. before coming to Texas A&M. I also have had a couple of opportunities to go internationally and use my health training. I volunteered with some orphanages through Orphanage Support Services Organization (OSSO) in Ecuador for a summer. Part of my time there was spent in a local hospital with one of the infants. Hospital care is very different there. Most of it is provided by family members, so it was a great experience to learn about different ways of providing care. I also went to the Polochic Valley in Guatemala with Singular Humanitarian Experience for a 10 day trip where I worked with a physician, a physician assistant and a few nurses to do neonatal resuscitation, CPR, and triage training for the local lay healthcare workers. In rural Guatemala, it can take hours on dirt roads to get to a hospital, so there are people in each village called “guardianos” who are trained to give very basic care and to recognize when a person can be cared for in the village and if they need to be driven to the hospital. We taught them how to make this distinction and how to provide emergency care right away. We trained them to do IVs and to provide rehydration as this is a very common problem. We also had members of our group train in basic hygiene, hand washing, oral care, and water sanitation. We had dentists with us that did tooth extractions for bad cavities as the locals did not have any other dental care. Other members of our group did school teacher trainings, business plan preparation, and dug out the foundation for a hospital right there in the village. All of these were projects requested by the village and were done in a way that when we left, the villagers could continue on independently. It was such an incredible opportunity to teach and to learn from them.
Describe the ways in which you provided this health care.
With SHe, we met with the guardianos for half of each day doing training and then in the afternoon held a walk-in clinic in which we were paired with a guardiano, an English to Spanish interpreter, and a Spanish to Q’eqchi translator. The clinics were usually set up in a school building and we used the desks as our exam tables. We tried as much as possible to have the guardianos ask the questions of the patients and discuss with them what follow up questions were needed and what diagnoses to consider. Because we wanted to focus on sustainable practices, we mostly addressed acute care problems.
Why did you choose to help in such a way?
I grew up having all of my needs met and more. I think that when we are blessed with much, it is an opportunity to help someone else who doesn’t have all we have. In the end, I think I got as much out of helping as the people I worked with in Guatemala or Ecuador. It was educational and really fun and I am a richer person for having experienced it. That’s one of the cool paradoxes of helping other people.
What motivates you to provide health care and education to others on living healthy lifestyles?
We’re all connected. You never know, a baby in Guatemala that we helped rehydrate that probably would have died within days if we hadn’t, may grow up to be a Nobel peace prize winner. I probably won’t know what most of my patients do after they leave my office on any given day, but if I can give them a better chance at being healthy so that they can do well in school and in relationships, that’s a chance for th