Returned Peace Corps Volunteers excel in AMNP program

Experiences abroad help Nieuwenhuys, Strawn succeed in School's accelerated master's curriculum
By Jimmy Creed

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, Paul D. Coverdell Peace Corps Fellows and Accelerated Master’s in Nursing Pathway (AMNP) students. Tatiana Nieuwenhuys, RN, and Kirsten Strawn, RN, are both on their way to becoming nurse practitioners.

In terms of miles, their journeys have been long.

After spending two years with the 200 or so people in the village of Ethiolo, Senegal, it was an option Nieuwenhuys very much wanted to choose when she returned to the states.

“I decided I wanted to become a nurse while I was in the Peace Corps because I worked very closely with the only nurse in our village, Yafaye Camara,” said Nieuwenhuys, who was sent as a community economic development volunteer. “He was a breath of knowledge and a wonderful person, and I loved the way he could treat his patients and help them. After seeing how he was really saving peoples’ lives, I realized I wanted a career just like his.”

Kirsten Strawn2Kirsten Strawn shares a moment with one of the children she came to know and love during her two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu.As part of the Paul D. Coverdell Peace Corps Fellows graduate fellowship program, Nieuwenhuys enrolled in the School in January 2015. She completed the prelicensure phase of the program in December 2015 and is currently working full-time as a professional nurse in the UAB Women’s & Infants Center at UAB Hospital. Nieuwenhuys is currently enrolled in the School's MSN program in the Family Nurse Practitioner track.

For Strawn, who volunteered as a community health facilitator in Lolibulo Village on Ambrym Island in the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu, things came into focus as she watched other health care professionals impact her villagers as well.

“My undergraduate degree is in biology, and I knew I wanted to do something in health care, but I wasn’t sure exactly what,” Strawn said. “We only had one health center with a nurse practitioner and a nurse for an entire island, and I did some work with them and started to realize that what they were doing was what I wanted to do with my career.”

Strawn begin researching possibilities during brief times when she could get internet access and read about the Paul D. Coverdell Peace Corps Fellows Program on the Peace Corps website. She also learned of the UAB School of Nursing and decided UAB was the only place to pursue her graduate degree.

“When I came back, I looked into UAB more closely, and it fit exactly what I needed,” Strawn said. “I wanted to do nursing, and I knew eventually I wanted to be a nurse practitioner. The benefits the scholarship offers are great, and it is an outstanding nursing program. I knew I would be getting a good education.”

Strawn also has completed the pre-licensure phase of the program and is working in a professional nursing role in the UAB Hospital Medical Intensive Care Unit while continuing her master’s specialty education. Unit. She is in the Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner track.

Instructor Karmie Johnson, MSN, CRNP, PMHNP-BC, the School’s Paul D. Coverdell Peace Corps Fellows Coordinator and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, said there are many reasons the AMNP program works so well for returned volunteers.

“They tend to be young, enthusiastic people who are placed into developing communities to solve problems, and the largest problems that consistently arise seem to be health related,” Johnson said. “They have been very successful at being able to adapt and come up with creative solutions. They just have a toolkit that is perfect for nursing.

“For Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, I think you can make a strong case that nursing is the best fit for a career choice they can possible consider.”

Johnson noted that most Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are older and have had considerable life experiences. That they have already proven themselves academically by earning an undergraduate degree. That they can adapt to rigorous situations, like to be hands on, and are passionate about what they do. All of these are characteristics that can help them be successful in the UAB School of Nursing’s challenging AMNP program.

Tatiana Nieuwenhuys2Tatiana Nieuwenhuys wants to go back to Senegal as a nurse practitioner someday to give back to the village of Ethiolo that gave her so much during her time in the Peace Corps.“Making a decision to do something big and bold, which is to say ‘whatever career path I was going to be on before I need to change midstream’ is easier for Peace Corps students because they have already done something big and bold by joining the Peace Corps,” Johnson said. “We don’t get staid, conventional thinkers, and we don’t get people that are reckless from the Peace Corps, either. We get problem solvers and leaders, and I believe they end up being very successful in nursing because there is such a good blend there.”

The School welcomed its first Peace Corps Fellows in 2010 and Nieuwenhuys and Strawn bring to eight the number who have completed the program. In 2016, Johnson said the program grew to include three Peace Corps Fellows in the same cohort for the first time, including Stephanie Bergado, a friend who sought admission on Strawn’s recommendation.

Strawn said she highly recommends the program for two reasons.

“First, if you are a Peace Corps volunteer, the financial help you receive is amazing,” Strawn said. “Second, I initially did not see the value of working as a floor nurse, but now I know that the work you do as a bedside nurse is invaluable. In this program they make it feasible for you to get that experience as a bedside nurse while working towards a higher goal, which is a huge plus.”

Strawn and Nieuwenhuys, who also holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and Spanish literature, agree that they want to become nurse practitioners so that at some point they might impact the places and people that their mentors before them did. Both hope to eventually return to help the communities they grew to love.

“During my Peace Corps years, I went there as a volunteer, but I received a lot more than I could ever give,” Nieuwenhuys said. “I would love to go back to Ethiolo and help with a medical mission project where I could give back to the community, and thanks to the Peace Corps Fellows Program and the UAB School of Nursing, maybe someday I will get to do just that.”
Read 6381 times Last modified on March 19, 2019

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