Nursing in Austere Environments

Global Response Management Operations Director Helen Perry and Director of Communications Alex Potter recalled their experiences providing health care in remote, war-torn and storm-ravaged areas of the world including Bangladesh, Iraq, Yemen, Matamoros and Central and South America.

Helen Perry

“Many people have good intentions about this kind of work,” Perry said, noting that sometimes these same people forget the limitations of the situation and resources.

Global health care volunteers are often working in less-than-ideal circumstances and can’t always leave their patients in better shape than they found them. Perry remarked how her team once had to set up a clinic in a parking garage.

GRM is a U.S.-based medical non-governmental organization that aims to bring emergency pre-hospital care and training to people living in or displaced from conflict zones. It operates primarily with volunteers like Perry and Potter, who focus on underserved areas and the Middle East, providing care in high-risk areas. Nearly all their funding goes directly to operations and patient care.

Perry encouraged attendees to consider volunteering for health care missions. However, using her own experiences as a guide, she recommended volunteers leave any preconceived ideas of any venue at home.

“Every situation is different, and you do the best you can,” she said.

Perry talked about some of the contradictory and controversial care issues she has faced.

Alex Potter

“I do not believe in binge and purge medication,” she said. “I do not treat [atrial fibrillation]. If a patient can’t afford medications or doesn’t have access, I take another approach than what they do in the United States. I might recommend dietary and lifestyle changes.”

She said some people would be aghast at this approach but suggested that until those people treat patients in other parts of the world, they might never know the impracticality of prescribing medicine the patients can’t obtain or afford once the mission team leaves.

As for volunteering, Perry said anyone can do it.

“I am a normal person. I am nothing special. I am like everyone else,” she said, encouraging attendees to reach out to get involved. “We need your voice, presence, intellect and compassion. It is just us.”