SMU Nursing Graduates Use Skills to Help War Refugees

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The altruism that motivated them to become nurses also inspired three Samuel Merritt University (SMU) students to fly halfway around the world to help refugees just weeks after their graduation.

Tiffany Lin said she jumped at the opportunity to go to Greece because a large part of the reason she enrolled in SMU’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program was her interest in global health.

Lin, Kali Drake and Maheen Khan traveled to the Greek island of Lesbos in late December to see firsthand the plight of refugees stranded there after fleeing their war-torn homelands.  The nursing students had watched the humanitarian crisis unfold in news accounts as Lesbos and other Greek islands became the first point of arrival in Europe over the past two years for more than a million refugees arriving by sea from Turkey.

“The irony for me having gone there is that it makes the news even more impactful for me now that I’m back, having heard the stories of the refugees and the families they left behind,” Drake said. “My heart ached a little more for each patient I met when I heard their stories.”

Their trip also coincided with a surge in violence in Aleppo, creating a lot of anxiety among the Syrian refugees for their loved ones left behind.

The students spent a week in the port city of Mytilene, shuttling between several refugee encampments with a group of other medical and humanitarian volunteers organized by Global Outreach Leaders.  Many of the refugees, particularly single men, were living outside the official camps in warehouses and abandoned buildings.

The three nurses brought along more than 50 pounds of medical supplies donated by SMU’s Health and Wellness Center. They also distributed gloves, hats, coats, socks and shoes to the refugees, many of whom were not prepared for the freezing temperatures.

“The response was overwhelming,” said Drake. “Kids would literally come to our rental van with their teeth chattering, wet and with no coats. They were grateful, but it was heartbreaking because we had limited supplies.”

Each night, the nurses set up a mobile clinic near the refugee camps. With the help of translators, they listened to the migrants’ health issues and distributed over-the-counter medications like cough medicines and muscle creams. They also provided wound care because in such squalid conditions a cut finger can quickly turn into a serious infection without bandages and antibiotic creams.

“Many are hesitant to go to the hospital because they are scared of being detained” by the Greek authorities,” said Drake of the refugees, who are mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

As the three women returned home to prepare to take their nursing board exams, they said they learned a lot from the experience and would go back again.

“The minute I decided to become a nurse was when I decided to go abroad and help people in need,” said Khan.

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