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Commencement to Haiti: Graduate leaves same day for relief trip

April Watkins, RN, MSN, graduated from the Adult Health Clinical Nurse Specialist program in the School of Nursing May 21. That same day, she left for a nine-day relief trip to Haiti.

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The following article is a narrative written by alumnus April Watkins, RN, MSN, about her experience working as a nurse in Haiti.

I graduated from the Adult Health Clinical Nurse Specialist program in the School of Nursing May 21. That same day I left for a nine-day relief trip to Haiti.

I was in a field hospital in Leogane, the epicenter of the earthquake that hit Jan. 12. About 30,000 people died in the town of 100,000. Unfortunately, due to a lack of equipment and infrastructure, many of the bodies remain in the rubble. While I was there, I lodged at the University of Notre Dame’s Lymphatic Filariasis Program, a training facility and guesthouse that were unscathed in the earthquake.

Immediately following the earthquake, a 40-bed field hospital was built on the grounds of the research facility. The field hospital continues to function with the help of American medical volunteers. I worked the emergency room, obstetric care (OB) and the clinic. I was able to use my diagnosis and management skills along with my medical surgical nursing skills to treat suspected diphtheria (called the WHO), syphilis, dengue, births, acute injuries, malaria, skin infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, heart failure, filariasis and more.

Watkins stands in a field hospital


I visited an orphanage in a United Nations truck escorted by a general from Sri Lanka. I worked with nurses and doctors from different states. We were a team of 13 that included doctors, nurses, pharmacists and nutritionists from all over the country.

We had the opportunity to visit the Medicines Sans Frontiers facility. Wow! What an operation. They had a 130-bed tent hospital with full surgical capabilities. They had orthopedic surgeons, OB, trauma doctors and more. They even provided two meals a day to their patients. It was very impressive. We transferred two patients to Medicines Sans Frontiers who were involved in a motorcycle collision. We stabilized them in our field hospital and transported them in the back of a pickup truck.

The people live in tents. There isn’t much of anything — no electricity, no running water, no real roads and a lot of other things they’re living without. It sounds desperate — and it is — but everyone seemed happy and remarkably healthy despite the conditions. The people were very appreciative of our efforts.

I’ve never been more proud to be a nurse.

Read related stories:
Medical crisis in Haiti: QandA with nursing faculty members
After the dust settles: Haiti’s next steps
Students, faculty travel to Haiti to assess damage
Haitian grad student: “This is a shame”