It’s not every day that 21-year-olds make a decision to volunteer their time in a country far from home. But that’s exactly what university student Amber Laptik is hoping to do this summer. Through United Planet’s volunteer abroad program, Laptik hopes to spend two weeks in Ghana to offer her nursing skills.
Here’s her story, and a peek into why she’s absolutely a “lady we love.”
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What drew you to pursue a career in nursing?
A: I’m a fourth year college student who is studying nursing. I have two semesters left after this, then I will get my bachelor’s degree and have to take my licensing exam called the NCLEX.
When I went off to college, several states away from home, I was actually a business major. But after a semester of that, I was miserable. It was what I was good at in high school, but science and medicine had always fascinated me. So I tried a semester of exercise science; that was too focused on nutrition and the physical aspect, and I realized I wanted a medically-focused career.
I transferred home and began my nursing career by taking the necessary pre-requisites. I have fallen in love with it; I look forward to my clinical days and the excitement that they bring.
Q: What made you decide you wanted to use your nursing skills internationally rather than domestically?
A: I have always wanted to travel the world and it just worked out that the two go together perfectly. For classes, I have to do a lot of research and it’s amazing what these nurses do internationally with the limited supplies they have. While I will start domestically to get a couple solid years of experience, I just feel that there is so much out there, and so much to learn. Why limit myself to Western medicine when there is a giant world out there?
Q: Tell us a little bit about the mission. Which organization is behind this trip? What will you be doing while you’re in Ghana? How long will you stay?
A: The organization that I found the trip through is called United Planet. They are a volunteer organization that has people in over 37 countries in the world. They have short term and long term missions, ranging from one week to over a year. Seeing as I am still a student, I only have time in the summer or over winter break to pursue this — two weeks would be just enough time to experience the culture and learn, while still allowing me to get back into the country in time to go back to school.
The program that I want to do is recommended for nurses or nursing students. I will be doing a lot of what I do in clinical now — taking patient vitals, changing wound dressing, administering medications and shots along with observing. It will be my first chance to experience the international world of medicine and give me a peek into the privileges the U.S. has that we often take for granted.
Q: How did you learn about this volunteer experience?
A: I actually did some research, starting with Google. I wanted to learn about international volunteer organizations and organizations like Doctors Without Borders. At first, I just wanted to see what was out there because I had such limited knowledge about volunteer organizations. United Planet immediately stood out to me. But before I even looked into a mission, I looked into their background. I wanted to make sure they were legitimate. Through my research — reading other people’s experiences and stories — I thought they were worth looking into. I then started looking at their short term mission trips in countries that I had always wanted to visit. I was leaning toward South Africa but then this Ghana trip was a perfect match.
Q: What drew you to this opportunity? Is there a reason you chose this particular volunteer mission over the others that are out there?
A: I chose this one because it was geared towards nursing students and nurses. Instead of just volunteering internationally, I will be able to use the skills that I’ve been learning about for the past three years. Africa has been a country that I have been dying to visit and I have heard many good things about Ghana.
Q: What are you most excited about for your two-week mission? Is there anything you’re feeling nervous about?
A: I would say I am more excited then nervous. There are some misconceptions that Ghana is not safe, but Ghana is not in conflict right now, so I am not concerned about that. I have a friend who is actually from Ghana whose uncle is a doctor there, and he’s been able to give me some insight. English is the main language there, so that will make the transition easier.
But I think I’m most nervous about how they will accept me. The organization helps with a lot of prep work before you go, but I just know that I want to be respectful and considerate.
Q: What do you hope to take away from an experience like volunteering abroad?
A: I hope to gain perspective, for myself as well as for my program. I will still have two semesters left when I come back and I want to be able to inform my fellow classmates and instructors about the differences in care.
Q: On your go funding site, you mention that this will provide you with a stepping stone toward reaching your ultimate goal of someday working for Doctors Without Borders. What inspires you about Doctors Without Borders?
A: Triage and trauma are fast paced environments which is something I enjoy throughly. It is also always changing. Doctors Without Borders is an international non-U.S. based organization that helps worldwide countries faced with disasters. It has ranged from helping the conflict in Syria to the Boxing Day Tsunami that wiped out many countries. People working for organization are selfless and I know that I want to make a mark on this world before I die. This seems like the best way to do it. I don’t need people to know my name; I just want to make a difference.
Q: What advice would you give to other young women who want to volunteer internationally and/or other young women who want to major in nursing?
A: I would say don’t get discouraged. It gets hard and frustrating, but it is worth it. You are going to get those professors and those patients that make you want to switch your major, but they are a dime a dozen. I have found that whenever someone asks me what I am doing and I let them know it’s nursing, they are excited — wondering what it’s like, what I’m doing, and what I want to do.
As for volunteering, I would say do your research. Find an organization you trust and look into the country you want to go to. You are going to have down time while you are there, so you want so go somewhere exciting. Also make sure you are doing it for the right reasons, whether it’s volunteering or becoming a nurse. I know too many people who have failed because they were in nursing for the money, when it is such a richer experience than that.
Photo credit Eastop.