Nurse Shares “Eye-Opening” Experience in Cajamarca, Peru

Check In Day (3)
A line of patients and family members waiting to check in for surgery.

By Tiffany Alongi, RN, PCCN
Trauma, Burn and Surgical Critical Care Units

Audrey Hepburn once said, “As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands- one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”

As a young, fresh faced graduate I was thrilled to be starting my career in one of the most prominent and cutting edge hospitals in the country. The idea of nursing was something I had always dreamed of doing. However, the complexity of a true nursing position quickly became evident to me. Nursing is an action packed, fast paced, ‘roll with the punches’ type of position that many are ill-equipped for, but I loved everything about it. I was one of those rare people that when asked could honestly say, “I love my job.”

Tiffany Alongi

Nonetheless, I had begun to feel a growing dissatisfaction. I acknowledged all that I had done here in the states and the impact I had made on some of my patients, but I began to wonder what else I could be doing.  I longed to spread my love for nursing beyond the walls of BWH. Rather than patients coming to me, I wanted to travel to them. I sought to employ my passion, empathy and knowledge on a more international scale in order to help treat patients around the world.

In November 2013, I embarked on a medical mission to Cajamarca, Peru, with an organization known as Medical Mission for Children. MMFC is a nonprofit volunteer based organization which travels to remote geographical locations in order to help children and young adults with the surgical repair of cleft lip and palate deformities, burn injuries, microtia and head or neck tumors. The focus of my mission was to repair cleft lips and palates and dental extractions.

Not a day goes by that I do not think about my experiences in Cajamarca. Alongside my amazing coworkers with MMFC, this once in a lifetime experience provided me a new perspective and understanding of the struggles and obstacles children in third-world countries must overcome in order to obtain the health care that others so often take for granted. I will never forget the look of respect and gratitude I received from a mother the first time she was reunited with her three-year old-daughter following a cleft lip repair. Nor will I be able to forget the tears of joy from another set of parents following their tutorial on the proper care and medication administration for a cleft palate repair. I will always remember the undeniable look of trust and appreciation I received from a mother as she handed over her eight-month-old son to me before he was brought back into the operating room for surgery.

My journey abroad has taught me more than can be contained in this brief article. As a nurse, my role is to help people, but during this journey, all of my patients truly helped me. There is an entire world to explore with people suffering and I plan to try to help as many as possible. My journey with MMFC opened my eyes to a whole new way of delivering health care. Cajamarca served to reinforce how gratifying it is to help others who are unable to afford the basic luxuries many people take for granted. The citizens of Cajamarca taught me the value of what it means to give from the heart and to focus on more than inconsequential material objects.

As I care for my patients today I find myself more mindful of not only who they are, but where they come from and all the circumstances that have brought them to Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Cajamarca has taught me to be more attuned to making an impact on the patient during their hospitalization as well as attempting to incorporate what he or she has at his or her disposal after discharge. In short, Cajamarca changed the way I deliver nursing care. Being a nurse is about more than just administering medications and replacing bandages. Sure, I do all of those things, but I also bring patients and their families solace. I inspire and motivate patients to push harder, strive for success, and defeat what seem like insurmountable odds. I form connections and bonds with people I would ordinarily never have had the opportunity to meet.

I am, and forever will be, thankful for the amazing opportunity to help others that is afforded to me because of my profession and the Medical Mission for Children organization.