I felt compelled to share an honest, unscripted version of the ways that transitioning from nursing overseas with Mercy Ships to “home” life/work has impacted me. I tend to sit on my blog posts for weeks because I’m trying to think of how I can tailor them to you and what I think you want to read. That is taking too much time and too much stress, so I’m done with that. This week. For a people-pleaser, it’s a start, right?

Here are my impressions of going from overseas living and nursing vocationally for 3 years, to being back where I started: med-surg unit in a small hospital that’s part of a large regional hospital network. And I should note, I’ve met and talked with many nurses from across the country and the world. That’s given me an impression of the way healthcare operates in many developed countries, however I personally have only worked at two different hospitals, within the same network and region. These are my opinions and impressions for anyone interested in what it’s like when you return from humanitarian healthcare, like Mercy Ships.

An INNER Adjustment

I finished my first travel assignment and I’m so proud of how far I’ve come. I know some of you are wondering about the adjustment. I went from Mercy Ships where I had grown quite accustomed to the way things were, even though I knew they weren’t conventional in any other healthcare system. Now I was going back to where I started, but I was different now.

Related Post: How I Experienced Cross-Cultural Nursing

What did that look like? I’m still trying to figure it out myself. The hardest part of all of it is that I feel different on the inside, but the outside looks the same. I can’t believe I’ve been back in the states for almost 6 months. That time frame sounds like enough time to adjust, but it’s not! I feel like a totally different person!

We’re All Connected

A few things I noticed about myself that I don’t remember being there before… my sense of how small the world is. I feel like anyone I pass is part of my community. I feel like we’re connected. I’m too trusting. I’ve always been naive and gullible, but it’s because I want to think the best about people. I don’t want to assume that they’re being jerks/selfish/manipulative/you-name-it! I was the kid who needed the educational videos on stranger danger because surely nobody would actually want to hurt me!

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Honestly, my time with Mercy Ships in West Africa only made that feeling stronger in me! After experiencing strangers help me, after being at the mercy of someone who doesn’t speak my language, I feel like it’s easier to trust than it is to be on guard all the time. And if that was in a foreign place, then I feel even more trusting in my own country. I have a much better idea of the social dynamics and cultural norms at play. I can speak the language for crying out loud! I can ask questions, make myself understood, and look like I know what I’m doing even if I kind of don’t!

I Know What I’m Worth

I’m not talking salary; I’m talking confidence! My confidence level has changed. I think it grew? It might be too good to be true; but maybe this is part of growing up and becoming more comfortable in my own skin. I noticed I wasn’t as apologetic if I knew I had tried my best and made a good decision with the info I had at the time. I know I’m not perfect, and I’m generally open to constructive criticism, but some doctors and PAs out there are just plain rude and try to make you feel like shit to get their way.

Both examples that stick in my mind were right in front of the patient, too! This has always been normal in healthcare, but now (after Mercy Ships) I care a lot less. I do my best with every patient during every shift, and I come to the table with 5+ years of nursing experience in many different contexts. So, to the mean doctors out there, you can tell me what I did that you don’t agree with and why you’re right and I should bow down and apologize to you while I kiss your feet, but you’re not gonna make me feel bad, or convince me that I did a bad job.

Healthcare Is One-Dimensional. People Are Not.

I wish healthcare was more holistic in the U.S. I think it takes a very caring and skilled provider to really make a difference in this area. I don’t know exactly how to do it myself. I’m not saying that healthcare in the U.S. should look like it does on the ship (i.e. frequent, public prayer and worship). I am saying that if humans are multi-dimensional, then, as healthcare professionals, we should treat more than just their body. I don’t think you need to be a Christian (or even have a religious affiliation) to do this.

I WISH healthcare acknowledged that each patient has a spirit and when your spirit is sick, it can affect your body. When things aren’t going well in social, emotional, or spiritual areas of your life, you won’t have the energy to focus on your health. Just because someone hasn’t made changes in their lifestyle doesn’t mean they don’t want to.

If any Mercy Ships alumni nurses are reading, I’d love to hear your thoughts and impressions in the comments below.
For everyone else reading, have you ever finished a volunteer or humanitarian trip and felt different when you returned? Did you ever return to “normal”? Would you ever try something like this? Let me know in the comments below, and thanks for reading!

1 comment on “How I Experienced American Healthcare After Working Overseas”

  1. This post was not at all what I expected—in a good way!

    I had expected a more … clinical comparison, I guess is the way I’ll phrase it. If you have written anything like that, I’d love to read that, too, but I enjoyed your personal reflection on your experiences.

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