Saturday, May 18, 2024

Local nursing students help in Guatemala

Twenty-two students studying to be nurse practitioners at FAU left on Feb. 20 for a weeklong trip to Guatemala, where they and their professors are experiencing healthcare delivery in extreme poverty. The trip abroad took the registered nurses and faculty to one of the country’s most rural areas, Antigua—some 2,000 meters in the mountains.

This is the first of two such journeys for Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing faculty and students. The U.S. students are caring for indigenous Maya, who have called Antigua home since 1960, following the 36-year-long civil war that killed more than 200,000 natives, according to an FAU press release.

The experience could change these students’ professional lives, forever. The Maya make, on average, about $1 per day, which provides families (many with eight and nine children) small huts made of dirt and straw. The people cook on open fires, and they eat what they farm. Corn is their main food source. Animal protein is scarce, limiting the people’s intake of this protein source to once, maybe twice, a month. Access to water also is a problem, leaving the Maya to walk at least four miles each way to find a clean water source.

“As a result of their harsh and extreme living conditions, indigenous Maya are inflicted with a number of health conditions including type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, musculoskeletal problems, roundworms caused by parasites and malnutrition, which causes physical and cognitive growth issues in the children,” Dr. Rhonda Goodman, assistant professor of FAU’s College of Nursing and a board-certified family nurse practitioner, says in the release.

Goodman has coordinated the outreach program in Guatemala for four years. The program, according to FAU, has provided healthcare access to 4,000 patients and saved countless lives. The American healthcare team sets up clinics and teams with local healthcare providers upon arrival in Guatemala.

They have to rely on the basic necessities to provide medical care, including tongue depressors, stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, sterile gloves and glucometers. One of the most important supplies is acetic acid, or vinegar, to screen for cervical cancer. Vinegar takes the place of a traditional Pap smear and provides an effective way to screen for the human papilloma virus and cervical cancer in developing countries. It works like this: Vinegar applied topically turns precancerous tissue white but does not change the color of healthy tissue. Providers know right away if an area is pre-cancerous, and local physicians use a therapy to freeze the bad cells and prevent the disease from spreading. The procedure costs about $1 for each patient.

“This is nursing at its most basic form,” Goodman says. “We treat our patients empirically by what we see, what we hear, what we smell and what they tell us. We don’t have X-rays, EKG machines, MRIs and any other equipment you would typically find in a clinic or healthcare facility here or in other developed countries.”

Goodman’s good work goes on. She has established a collaborative network of partnerships with non-governmental organizations in Guatemala to create a network that helps to ensure follow-up care for those who need it.

“It can be overwhelming,” Goodman says. “But I tell our future nurse practitioners just focus on one patient at a time.”

Lisette Hilton
Lisette Hilton
Lisette Hilton, president of Words Come Alive, has had the luxury of reporting on health, fitness and other hot topics for more than 23 years. The longtime Boca Raton resident, University of Florida graduate and fitness buff writes for local, regional and national publications and websites. Find out more on

Related Articles

Latest Articles