|Taplin taking students on 'reality' trip|
|Friday, May 14, 2010|
By Scott Wilson|
Susan Taplin became a nurse practitioner years ago with one single purpose in mind–she wanted to serve others.
And she has converted that ideal into a practical career, helping one of the most medically remote areas in the world–Cambodia.
Taplin will supervise a group of students from Belmont University on a medical trip to Cambodia. The group left today Thursday of this week.
“This is actually a class trip that students will get credit for,” said Taplin, a nursing faculty member at Belmont.
“We have very large groups some years, but this year we’re taking five students. We will be heading to Phnom Penh to work at a hospital there.”
Taplin said the trip has many purposes for the Belmont students. It can open them up to the culture of Cambodia and open their eyes to Cambodia’s less than ideal healthcare system. Taplin said the healthcare system in the country leaves a lot to be desired.
”Part of the purpose of the trip is to try and expose the students to Cambodia and to show them the healthcare system in Cambodia. It is nothing fancy,” said Taplin, who previously lived in Cambodia for two years.
“They don’t have many of the medical equipment we regularly use in the treatment of patients in the United States.
“The hospital we will be at in Cambodia is a faith-based hospital named Sihanouk Hospital Center of Hope in Phnom Penh. It is free for the poor of Cambodia and it offers high quality free healthcare.”
Taplin said the hospital is “like a mini Vanderbilt Hospital,” serving as a teaching hospital where medical personnel from around the country come to be trained to provide healthcare at a higher standard.
While in Cambodia, the students will get hands-on instruction with the Cambodian medical personnel at the hospital.
Taplin said she tells the students the trip is not for those who don’t want to be involved.
”The students will get to see a lot of diseases in young people that we prevent here in the United States because we have preventative healthcare,” Taplin explained.
“So, they may see a young person with congestive heart failure because he or she had strep throat when she was younger, and it was never treated.
“The poorest of the poor in the United States don’t even compare to what the students will see there. They will see babies taking care of babies on the street because they have no parents. They will see people living on the trash dump. In our country, I think we sometimes get spoiled, and when you go into a country with no infrastructure, where the government doesn’t help its own citizens, you can’t really appreciate how bad it is until you see it. That brings it home.”
Taplin said none of the healthcare is provided by the government and that the patient’s family has an increased role in healthcare in Cambodia.
“There is nothing provided by the government. When you are treated at a government hospital, you have to pay for everything,” she said.
“And at a government hospital you might get some care, but they don’t pay their nurses well, so sometimes the nurses leave to go to another job and come back to the hospital at night.”
Besides just working at the hospital, the Belmont students will be taken out into the villages. They will visit orphanages, do some HIV home visits and stop at a couple of villages to teach the people about hand-washing and basic oral hygiene.
Taplin said the trip usually becomes a life-altering time for the students, as they try to comprehend the vast variety of things they’re experiencing.
“This trip is about a lot of things. It is about teaching the students there is a global need in healthcare and that nurses can make a difference,” Taplin explained.
“You don’t have to always be the one that gets on the plane and goes, but if you have voices coming back and saying ‘wow, we need to do something about this.’ Everyone can get involved.
“I hope after the trip is finished, the students will have an increased awareness of global issues. They experience so much while they’re there. They see child trafficking, they see how the Cambodians view the Americans. They are exposed to experiences they will never get here in the United States, and it changes their lives and hopefully makes them a better nurse.
”It forces them to examine who they are, and some of them feel really guilty for the things they’ve complained about or taken for granted,” Taplin added.
“You can watch them go through the process while they’re there. They’re all excited when they first arrive, and then after about 10 days there they get to the point when they wonder why they’re there. And by the end of the trip, they don’t want to leave.”
The trip will mean a lot more to Taplin besides just a work project. She will be going “home.”
”For me, this trip is a lot of work, but because I lived there for two years and I have people I consider my family there, I get to reconnect,” Taplin said.
“I get to support the nursing staff there because we do a lot of teaching while we’re there. And when you get to work with the students on the trip, and watching them go through the process of their minds and hearts and eyes being opened, you don’t get to see that very often.
“When you get to be intimately involved with someone going through a terrible time, it is a gift. That’s what it is like for the students and me as we work with the people of Cambodia. I know this trip changes them and I know it makes them a better nurse. Not a lot of people get to experience that.”