Certain populations in the United States are particularly vulnerable to being medically underserved. For example, it is estimated that 60% of women older than 85 years live alone; Hispanic and black elders are more likely to live with family. Black men have a 200% greater rate of stroke than do men of other races. The life expectancy of migrant farm workers in the United States is 49 years. Older adults with Medicaid are more likely to have poor health.

Nurse Nola Henry

The conflict in South Sudan was continuing into its second year when the Australian Red Cross aid worker Nola Henry spent 10 weeks in this African country bordering Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and other countries in northeastern Africa.

Imagine yourself in a tent in the middle of a swamp in South Sudan. It's hot, wet, muddy, and the mosquitoes are ready for their supper. However, you're about to perform surgery by torchlight! Nurse Nola experienced these exact conditions as a Red Cross health worker in a field hospital in South Sudan.

The armed conflict in South Sudan left hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need of aid, and when Nola arrived, the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) and South Sudan Red Cross were working to provide food, water and sanitation, shelter and healthcare to the most vulnerable people.

Between 2013 and 2015, the ICRC performed nearly 5,500 surgeries, conducted more than 23,000 outpatient consultations and assisted more than 3,000 people with disabilities.

Nola Henry spent time in South Sudan during two missions with the ICRC, where she worked as part of a mobile surgical team to treat weapon-wounded patients. Ward nurse Nola supported a surgeon, an anaesthetist and an operating theatre nurse during her mission, who work alongside local nurses and volunteers.

Nola said: "It may be that we need to set something up in the middle of nowhere so our kit consists of taking everything we need to be self-sufficient: tents to set up an operating room and nurse the patients, tents that we can live in of course, and then you put up a tarpaulin under a tree so the cooks can prepare the food." 

The minimum services are provided, of course. There are no x-rays, scans or blood tests. Also, the teams often treat patients who were injured weeks or months before. Many have survived for at least five days, but others haven´t.

Infections often take hold in a few days after the injury, leaving surgeons with little choice but to focus on saving limbs.

Nola's role comprised everything from helping to determine which patients need to be treated first to communicating with relatives and organizing treatments.

The difficult conditions in South Sudan are far from shocking for Nola. She was awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal in 2015 and she has completed 12 international missions. She was in Indonesia in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami. She´s also been to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, Kyrgyzstan and the Philippines.

She said that simple camping experience can help you prepare for humanitarian mission of this sort. "You don't have to replicate South Sudan by camping in a swamp, in a mosquito-infested area, but make sure that you can live outside of an air-conditioned building," said Nola. You also need to be able to live without a flushing toilet, long showers and the sort of food you´re used to.

You're not going to have all the answers, she says, but you can be refreshed by the fact that no-one expects you to have the answers while you're there. They're just grateful that you're there, listening and trying to help.

The Humanitarian Side of MS Nursing Masters

While humanitarian work may be satisfying, character building; bring purpose, perspective and meaning to your life, to can also be highly challenging.

Here´s the story of two nurses who embraced that challenge, and went on a humanitarian roller coaster ride.

Nurse Helen Zahos

Helen Zahos is also an Australian nurse, who spent 10 weeks on The Greek islands neighboring Turkey.

During her mission in this region, they were grappling with a major humanitarian crisis as refugees fleeing from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and neighboring countries descend on the small islands.

In late August of that year, she saw images on social media of the humanitarian crisis that was unfolding. Masses of refugees fleeing Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and neighboring countries began to descend on the small Greek islands neighboring Turkey. 

A country already experiencing financial turmoil, Greece was being flooded with overwhelming numbers of refugees.

Of Greek descent, a registered nurse and paramedic, Helen felt compelled to go and help. In the six weeks leading up to the mission, she raised funds via an online crowd funding site.

She didn´t expect much response, and was overwhelmed by the generosity of the people that donated. The sum rose to $20,000 in just a few weeks, so Helen was able to provide medical supplies and equipment before she had even left Australia. 

Her plan was to join the Médecins du Monde Greece team on the Island of Lesvos, and later move onto the border of Greece and FYROM (Macedonia).

On her first day on Lesvos Island, she was picked up from the airport by a team member when a call was received. Over 3,500 refugees had arrived on the other side of the island during the previous three hours. There were reports of injuries and help was needed immediately.

That day, no buses were running as the police were overwhelmed with arrivals of refugees. This meant that the refugees, who were wet and cold, had to hike 10 km up the mountain to the bus stop, to then be informed no buses were running. They were then faced with a 65km walk to a registration camp on the other side of the island. Many were carrying children.

Helen wondered why they couldnt drop people off in the car they were travelling in. She was told that they would be charged with human trafficking of illegal immigrants if they were caught!

After assessing a number of injured people, it was obvious that the greatest need for these refugees were blankets and clothes. The sun had set and they had to sleep on the side of the road. Around 500 blankets were distributed that night, and they joined forces with two other organizations and drove around handing blankets to women and children asleep on the side of the road. 

The team didn’t get back to their hotel until 3am, and the morning shift the following day started early. 

Every day, Helen encountered tales of tragedy. There were drownings when boats capsized; people were injured before they arrived due to bombings and shootings; people arrived with chemical burns due to oil and fuel leaks in the boats; there were cases of pneumonia from spending nights sleeping out in the winter cold, swollen blistered feet from walking long distances over mountains in wet shoes.

Minors that had lost their parents during the journey. Many were disabled, blind or maimed. They all had a story of survival from the war they had fled and the treacherous journey they had endured.

It became clear that no matter why they left their countries, travelling like this was absolute hell. No one would choose this way of fleeing unless they absolutely had to do so and their life depended on it. Their journey could take weeks or months, with many days on foot carrying what little to no belongings they had.

These stories aren´t meant to scare you away from humanitarian work. Hopefully they will motivate you and prepare you for what´s to come, and give you an idea of the real need that is out there for your good work.

Applying for any program can also be challenging, which is why we´re here to give you a helping hand. If there are a few MS Nursing Master´s programs that have caught your eye, but you´re not sure how to put yourself across in a way that will wow admissions staff, you´re in the right place. Get in touch to get your free first paragraph.