Post-graduation trip to Ecuador helps MMU alum serve Corridor patients better

When Allison Wampler ’13 chose Mount Mercy University, she made the decision primarily because of the reputation of the nursing program; however, she never imagined she would also find a community where her passion for Spanish language and cultures could also be incorporated seamlessly into her studies.

In fact, when Allie started at Mount Mercy, Spanish classes were not even a curriculum option. With the assistance from faculty and staff members and individualized study plans, Allie graduated with a nursing major and Spanish minor in May 2013. She also gained substantial academic preparation and work experience that served her well on a post-graduation adventure – nine weeks working as a healthcare professional in Quito, Ecuador.

Allie Wampler
“If you have other interests, pursue them. It can almost always relate back to nursing.” – Allison Wampler ’13

“My MMU education prepared me for this experience in so many ways,” said Allie. “We had a lot of cultural competency work in our nursing classes, and the amount of exposure I was able to get to Latina culture through volunteering – inspired or set up through MMU – really helped me ease into the Ecuadorian cultural differences.”

Through Mount Mercy faculty connections, especially those of Dr. Belkis Suárez, assistant professor of Spanish, and Dr. Mary Tarbox, professor and chair of the department of nursing, Allie was also able to gain Spanish language skills through her clinical experiences in the nursing program and while volunteering at the free Spanish clinic in Cedar Rapids and the Young Parents Network.

“In several classes, Dr. Suárez also tried to incorporate my nursing major with my cultural and language studies,” said Allie. “She was a huge reason I was able to do this trip to Ecuador, and she opened a lot of doors for me in the Spanish-speaking community in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City as well.”

Due to the demands of the nursing curriculum, many students are not able to travel abroad during the academic semester. However, because Allie really wanted to hone her Spanish speaking skills in a native-speaking country, Catherine Cashner, director of international recruiting and integration, worked with Allie to arrange a study abroad trip to Costa Rica during the summer between her sophomore and junior years.

Allie’s Mount Mercy experiences with nursing and Latina cultures were an incredible asset to her in Ecuador where she worked primarily with women and children. “During my time there, I did rotations through a few different clinical areas in the public health sector,” said Allie. “I spent a week in pediatrics and the adolescent mothers unit, a week in an OBGYN clinic, two weeks in the emergency department of the maternity hospital, and a month in labor and delivery at the maternity hospital.”

However, when Allie arrived in Ecuador, she had to prove her nursing skills before she could dive into patient care. “Nurses do not have the same roles in Ecuador as they do in the States, so when I would tell people I was a nurse, they didn’t expect me to know much,” said Allie. “Nurses there primarily take care of administrative duties and paperwork. However, I was lucky enough to demonstrate my knowledge from nursing school and eventually was able to do more.”

Allie Wampler
Allison poses with an obstetrician resident she worked with for a few weeks in a maternity emergency room in Ecuador.

During her rotations, Allie was able to examine expectant mothers and newborns, assist with minor procedures and surgeries, locate fetal heart tones, observe several cesarean section deliveries, and provide supportive hand holding to laboring women. “Overall, the experience was amazing,” said Allie. “I never imagined I would get to help as much as I did.”

In spite of all the preparation, some of what Allie encountered in Ecuador still surprised her. “There are huge amounts of people living with HIV or AIDS in Ecuador, and that alone is a reality check,” said Allie. “But also, the amount of exposure I had to sexual assault and abuse victims rocked my world. There were girls as young as 13 having children as the result of rape. I had several patients who were barely reaching puberty who had been victims of assault for years. It was sickening.”

The fact that the doctors in Ecuador were not shocked by what they consider common scenarios also really impacted Allie. “There were a few days where I came home and cried because I knew there was nothing I could do for these young women,” said Allie. “But, having these experiences has made me a better nurse, and it reminds me to always have compassion because you have no idea what the people around you have been through.”

Upon her return to the States in the fall of 2014, Allie started her first full-time job as a staff nurse at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. In the future she hopes to continue to travel and work internationally and has already seen the benefits of her trip spill over into her professional life.

“I gained so much insight and experience in Ecuador that I wouldn’t trade for the world,” said Allie. “I frequently have Latina patients who know little or no English. When you have a baby in the NICU, it’s very scary and even the little questions can be hard to find answers for when there is a language barrier.”

Allie hopes that other students at Mount Mercy – especially those in the nursing program – take the opportunity to explore interests outside their major. “If you have other interests, pursue them. It can almost always relate back to nursing,” said Allie. “Getting my minor in Spanish and traveling to Costa Rica and Ecuador during college were the best decisions I ever made.”

And those experiences have helped make Allie and incredible asset to her patients in Iowa.

“After having this experience and my knowledge of medical Spanish, as well as some Latina cultural practices, I’m better prepared to explain things to my patient’s families and put them at ease just a little bit during a very scary and stressful time,” said Allie. “Those are my favorite moments and are the reason I became a nurse.”


Written by Sara Baughman