Former faculty and nursing alumnus takes skills to Nepal

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Stephanie Dang |

Former School of Nursing associate professor Marilyn Pattillo has dedicated most of her life to sharing her nursing skills with those in need around the world.

During her latest trip overseas last December, Pattillo traveled to Nepal with the International Medical Relief, a non-governmental organization, to assist populations affected by the April 2015 earthquake. Pattillo, who led the team from Austin, said this experience was an educational one.

“The people we were taking care of were very patient and gracious and thankful,” Patillo said. “They taught us a lot. It wasn’t one-way. They taught us a lot about what they do to stay healthy. They have half of all the expensive stuff here, and the patients turn out just as well.”

Pattillo said her extensive experience with disaster and humanitarian volunteering motivated her to get involved. Pattillo founded the School of Nursing’s Disaster Nursing Program, and she trained in battlefield and combat nursing as a former flight nurse in the Air Force.

“My personal goal was to teach young people how to do this work,” Pattillo said. “I’m planning the next generation of responders.”

According to a blog update posted by International Medical Relief, which provides mobile medical clinics and health education to international communities, each of the nurses on the trip had a medical or shadowing student with them.

“We value the teaching of our young people on the team and this role gives medical students, nursing students, and undergraduate students the opportunity to learn how our nurses and providers approach patient care,” the post said.

Stephanie Dang, currently enrolled in the psychiatric nurse practitioner program, was one of these students.

“My goal, what I find to be the most important, was to learn … (about) the culture and community. The Nepali people are beautiful. Simple and lovely,” Dang said. “There was an intimacy that really allowed us to enter their culture and bond.”

The trip involved 57 healthcare providers and students and focused on humanitarian, rather than immediate, medical care. Nurses on the trip performed lab tests, made diagnoses, counseled patients and provided medication. The 2015 earthquake resulted in the destruction of villages and infrastructure, leaving residents without access to adequate health care.

Of the providers, Pattillo said a surgical group worked at the hospital, a primary care group stayed near Kathmandu, and another group traveled to distant mountain regions to care for indigenous people. In addition to seeing more than 200 patients a day, Pattillo also taught classes to local nurses and hospitals, many of which had to make do with limited resources.

“The nurses over there are very different than here,” Pattillo said. “American nurses have a lot of responsibilities. (The Nepali nurses) found it very weird that [American] nurses could intervene and make their own decisions.”

Pattillo said this experience taught her shadow students how to be resourceful.

“All of my students were in shock because … there were minimal supplies and minimal equipment,” Pattillo said. “They asked, ‘How are we supposed to do this?’ But I said, ‘that’s why you’re here.’”

Dang agreed that there was much to learn from her Nepal experience, where she worked to educate and treat members of underserved mountain communities.

“If you don’t return humbled … then you went for the wrong reason,” Dang said. “The people we encounter have such rich lives that it becomes an honor to have crossed paths, and it changes you for the better.”