Cheryl Swift, MSN, RNC-OB is a Registered Nurse at ChristianaCare in Delaware and a long-time partner of Hearts in Motion, an international medical mission organization. The mission of Hearts In Motion is to provide quality medical care and to assist in the development of social programs to improve the health, education and welfare of the people they serve in the U.S., Central and South America. Cheryl has volunteered with this non-profit organization for several years and has helped it to grow.

Cheryl usually attends the January medical mission trip to Guatemala as it focuses on women’s and children’s health – Cheryl’s unique nursing practice background. This year’s trip was particularly special for Cheryl. She was able to engage more ChristianaCare nursing colleagues in attending this trip.

Ashley Rufe, BSN, RN, CCRN; Jessica Burt, BSN, RN; and Jillian Harkness, BSN, RN, attended their first international medical mission trip because of Cheryl’s mentorship. Jessie is a graduate of ChristianaCare’s Labor & Delivery nurse residency program; Jillian works in Labor & Delivery; and Ashley is a trauma-surgical critical-care nurse. The four local nurses joined additional interprofessional health care team members from the Greater Philadelphia region and across the country. Each volunteer team member was able to match her clinical skills with the needs of Guatemalans, working to the top of her license and credentials. Here are their thoughts on the mission trip.

As a Registered Nurse, what fueled your desire to serve in this way?

“For me, the desire to serve and care for populations of people without access to basic health care has always been present. I have always been acutely aware of the privilege we have here in the United States, but I didn’t realize the extent of it until I spent a month in India in 2017 and needed medical attention myself. The disparities and hardships that exist in most places throughout the world are truly heartbreaking. As someone with the education, experience, resources, and ability, I truly believe it’s my duty to support our communities both locally and globally however I can. Now, that I’ve been a nurse for a couple years and have gained the specialized knowledge and skills specific to OB-GYN populations, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join Cheryl on this wonderful mission trip.”- Jessica Burt, BSN, RN

“It has always been my dream to be able to serve as a nurse to under privileged communities. I wanted to be able to give back to those who needed it most. I have learned so much in my career as nurse, and given the opportunity, I think that health care workers can change so much. Proper health care can change the way people live and give them a better chance. I honestly felt like it was my calling to try and reach as many individuals as possible and provide hope for those who need it most.” – Jillian Harkness, BSN, RN

“I have always enjoyed helping others, I think that is one of the main reasons I became a Registered Nurse. When deciding to serve on a medical mission trip I wanted to help others in a different way. Here in the United States, we have all the latest technology and best tools to offer our patients. In Guatemala, they do not have these same resources. We were able to provide these communities with health care that they would never have been able to get otherwise. I wanted to help those individuals who truly needed it.” – Ashley Rufe, BSN, RN, CCRN

Supporting Surgical Intervention

Cheryl, Ashley, Jessica and Jillian spent several days of their week-long medical mission trip supporting surgical interventions that resulted in positive patient outcomes. Hundreds of Guatemalan’s were screened by providers for needed surgeries that they were unable to access without the help of the volunteers. Once the doctors and anesthesiologists screened the patients to determine who met qualifications for surgery, the nurses completed blood work, created operating room schedules, and communicated with patients. The most common surgeries included hysterectomies and tubal ligations. The nursing team would circulate in the operating room during surgery and then also serve as pre- and post-op nurses. The nurses would discharge tubal ligation patients that very same day; hysterectomy patients stayed overnight in the care of Guatemalan nurses and then were evaluated and discharged by the volunteer nurses. Cheryl, Ashley, Jessica, Jillian and the other volunteer nurses and health care professionals completed 27 surgeries over a four-day period.

Helping Thousands of Patients in Clinic

Through the work of Hearts in Motion and local Guatemalans, numerous clinics are set up around the country and staffed by volunteers. Hundreds of Guatemalans will line up to be seen in a clinic. It may be hours before they are seen but they are so grateful for the opportunity to be evaluated and treated that they will wait all day long if necessary. Common evaluations and treatments included screenings for cervical cancer, blood pressure assessment and treatment, ear/nose/throat evaluations for children, and vision clinics that even included glasses given out to children. The clinic has no set hours and volunteers staff the clinic until all the patients are seen.

Cheryl, Ashley, Jessica and Jillian brought bubbles and stickers for the Guatemalan children to play with while waiting to be seen and the kids were absolutely thrilled. Jillian even brought a Polaroid camera so they could take pictures with the children and leave the photos behind, many of the children having never seen a camera or owned a photo. Cheryl noted that even the last patient to be seen, possibly waiting for over eight hours, was so grateful to be seen and entered the clinic with a smile and hugging all the volunteers. Cheryl, Ashley, Jessica and Jillian reported seeing over 1,000 Guatemalans during their clinic sessions.

Serving the Global Community and Filling up on Gratitude

Asked, “why serve in this way?” the nurses’ answers are filled with compassion, gratitude, humanity and love!

“I do this for the love of the people. The appreciation that they demonstrate is phenomenal. The experience of poverty in Guatemala is overwhelming but the residents are so appreciative and happy. Giving back in this way is my commitment to human kindness and connectedness. We are able to create lasting connections and comradery with strangers who eventually become your friends. I also appreciate the creativity and ingenuity of our health care team when working without resources but needing to deliver high-quality health care. I particularly enjoy going to Guatemala and working with Hearts in Motion because of how beautiful the county and its’ people are, as well as how the people are growing through the support of this organization. Every time I come back, I see more kids with shoes on their feet and with higher education levels. We are not trying to come in and be heroes: We are supporting the development and enrichment of the people.”

– Cheryl Swift, MSN, RNC-OB

“This trip was truly incredible. The memories I made, the people we met, those things will last with me for a lifetime. My biggest takeaways though include the amount of gratitude that the beautiful people of Guatemala have for any help or assistance you can offer as truly overwhelming. The strength the women who were operated on was so moving. Some of them walking home mere hours after their procedures. Others with long journeys back to their villages on crowded buses. All without much of any pain medicine at all. The sheer joy and excitement on the faces of all the children to receive the smallest gifts — things like stickers, playing with bubbles. I really believe that there is such empowerment in a group of people coming together to serve those who need it most. The healthcare team that went on this mission were some of the kindest, most selfless, genuine people I have ever met. Working alongside people who all have the same passion for global health and serving others is the best feeling in the world. I can’t wait to go back and do something like this again. Maybe I’ll make it a full-time job someday.” – Jessica Burt, BSN, RN

“I think for me, the most gratifying part of the medical mission trip was seeing the Guatemalans persevere. Many of the population had no running water, homes with roofs made of tin and trash, inadequate health care, and scarce food sources. And yet these people were some of the happiest faces I have ever seen; it was truly remarkable. They knew that when they got word that we were coming to their village that their lives would be better today. They would go home with their bellies full, much needed medication, or even a surgery that they waited far too long for. Their appreciation and gratitude were one of the highlights of the trip. This experience has truly been humbling in so many ways. I would without a doubt or hesitation do another trip. Our world is disconnected in so many ways and something as small as volunteering can help unite our worlds. We are all human and deserve the best in life and if I am able to better lives by volunteering my time then that is my mission.”

– Jillian Harkness, BSN, RN

“The most gratifying part of the medical mission trip was being able to help others who were truly in need. The women we served at the hospital were so appreciative of our help and care. I think that one of the best parts of the trip was when the women were sent home; they, along with all their family members, would hug and thank us for taking care of them. For them to be so grateful for the care we gave to them was so heartwarming.”

– Ashley Rufe, BSN, RN, CCRN