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Finding Purpose in Volunteering and Heritage: Meet Elaine Alston

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Melissa Mills has 20 years experience as a BSN and specializes in Nurse Case Manager, Professor, Freelance Writer.

11 Followers; 123 Articles; 26,575 Profile Views; 286 Posts

Many nurses have a volunteer's heart. This has always been true for Elaine Alston. After visiting her homeland, she realized it was time to combine her love of South Africa with her passion for volunteering. This led to the creation of Nurses with Purpose. Learn about her story here.

Finding Purpose in Volunteering and Heritage: Meet Elaine Alston
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According to a 2017 report by the World Health Organization and the World Bank, at least half of the world's population lacks access to essential health services. As more people than ever are facing health conditions without adequate access, many nurses are called into mission here and across the globe.

Have you ever considered going on a medical mission trip? Do you wonder what a typical day would be like if you were to go? I had the pleasure of speaking with Elaine Alston, founder of Nurses with Purposes (NWP) who told her story and answered several questions that might help you decide if a medical missions trip is right for you.

History of Nurses with Purpose

Before she ever took her first nursing class, Elaine wanted to give back. She contacted the local hospital, but she wasn't eligible to work as a nursing assistant quite yet. Not to be discouraged, Elaine signed up as a personal touch volunteer. She reminisced that it was in those one-on-one interactions with patients where she fell in love with volunteering.

After graduating from nursing school, she began working but quickly realized how easily nurses could suffer from burnout. She started feeling this way herself but used her volunteering opportunities to combat these discouraging feelings. Elaine knew she had to stay connected with volunteering and began working with local organizations and events. She became known for this work on her unit and started organizing events for other nurses too. This is when she first realized how much she loved connecting other nurses with volunteer experiences that kept them grounded in their love of the profession.

In 2010, Elaine's love of volunteering received a new calling - Johannesburg, South Africa. She visited as a part of a homecoming trip. You see, she was from Johannesburg, but had never visited.

When she met her family, she learned that she was like her grandmother, who was also a nurse. Her father told stories of her grandmother bringing the sick home to care for them when they couldn't care for themselves. Elaine left Johannesburg knowing she needed to continue her heritage of caring for the sick in this part of the world. She saw this as yet another opportunity to connect others to people in need which led to the creation of NWP.

NWP Today

Things worth working for never happen quickly, right? And, Nurses with Purpose is no different. It took Elaine several years and multiple trips to South Africa to build the infrastructure for the program that would support and foster medical care provided by American nurses in Johannesburg. She created the organization, board of directors, and began recruiting for her first team trip in 2017.

Today, she is working to grow the organization to take more nurses on a mission to a city she loves. NWP combines the medical mission with opportunities to learn more about the culture and people by organizing excursions and celebratory dinners throughout their time serving.

If you have ever wondered about taking a medical mission trip, here are a few things you should consider.

Typical Day

The team's days start early. Most days, you work in a local health clinic that sees 350-500 patients each day. Because there is little use of technology, they are highly organized and run patients through quickly. As a team member, you will work in the ED, triage, health screening, mental health, and postpartum and antepartum units. NWP also works with a mobile health unit to visit rural settlements to provide healthcare to villages and local townspeople. One or two nurses will go with a local healthcare team each day to experience healthcare outside of the city.

You will also provide psychosocial care to children in a local orphanage. Elaine explained that a significant portion of the orphans in S. Africa has lost their parents to HIV or Aids. She said that this day is a great way to connect with the children and the people serving them in the orphanage.

How Does it Differ from Care in the States?

Besides the use of technology, caring for patients in South Africa is entirely different. Elaine described one cultural difference as the "respect for the ill." Healthcare teams are dedicated to taking care of the ill in a different way than what we are used to here at home. "In the clinic, it is normal for 4 out of 5 patients to be HIV positive. Many women do not want to discuss their illness with their spouse or partners for fear of them leaving them due to being unclean," said Elaine. She expressed how integral the NWP team of nurses has become in offering education, support, and compassion for women who might not receive it otherwise.

Your Investment

Medical mission trips aren't cheap. But, if you look at the trip as an investment in your career and the care and welfare of others who might never receive it without you - it might just be worth it.

Your trip to Johannesburg will cost you $1913.38. This includes your lodging, transportation, 2 celebratory dinners, 3 excursions, and a few other incidental charges. For more details on the application, cost, and how to become an NWP team member, follow this link. If you would like to consider a few other medical missions trip options, consider these as well:

Why Medical Missions?

Do you often wonder where the romance went in your nursing career? Elaine believes that a missions trip will remind you why you chose this caring, compassionate, yet difficult career path. "Completing a missions trip will be your nursing revival," said Elaine.

If you have been on a mission trip and have experienced a nursing revival, share your story with us in the comments below. Did you love it? Do you want to go back? Did you have any bad experiences? We want to hear it all.

Melissa is a Quality Assurance Nurse, professor, writer, and business owner. She enjoys empowering other nurses to find their passions and create a unique nursing career that fits their passions, desires, and gifts. She is the owner of melissamills.net, where you can see more of her writing and read her blog and co-owner of enursingresources.com, a start-up Nursing CE company that will offer online courses soon.

11 Followers; 123 Articles; 26,575 Profile Views; 286 Posts

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