Volunteering with Mercy Ships

Volunteering with Mercy Ships

Prior to finding out about Mercy Ships, Christel A. Echu, RN, admits that if you asked her if she wanted to volunteer for any organization and not get paid, she would have said, “No.”

But when a friend who was an authority in the church she attended in Cameroon, Africa, she changed her mind. “I decided to volunteer with Mercy Ships because I was interested in being a part of the great work they were doing for the people of my country, and I wanted to help in any way that I could,” Echu says.

Mercy Ships Bring Hope and Healing

Mercy Ships is a non-profit Christian organization, she says, that sails across West and Central Africa with the mission and vision to provide hope and healing to patients who are poor and/or forgotten in countries there.

When Echu began volunteering with Mercy Ships, she had just graduated from nursing school. First, she worked as a volunteer translator when the ship, the Africa Mercy, was docked in the port of Cameron. She volunteered as a translator for 10 months.

Mercy Ships bring hope and healing

Mercy Ships bring hope and healing

By then, Echo says, she was hooked. She ended up continuing to volunteer for another two years. “I transitioned from that [working as a translator] to working as a volunteer screening nurse until the end of my commitment,” she says. “Screening nurses, we see all the patients before they are seen by the rest of the hospital. We screen, assess, and ensure patients are healthy enough for surgery.”

She says that they pre-screened more than 6,000 patients in a day when they were in Guinea Conakry. “That was the longest shift I have ever had,” she says.

One of the aspects that Echu loved about Mercy Ships is that she got to work with nurses from all over the world: including the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, the United States, and others.

“I loved working with patients and with my team. We also worked alongside our wonderful translators, which was a blessing because they helped to facilitate communication between the patients and nurses,” she recalls. “I think I enjoyed the fact that we could learn from each other to provide the best care to the patients we served. I enjoyed seeing the joy the patients felt whenever we announced to them that they were getting surgery. “The dance of joy” was a thing in the screening tent and I enjoyed seeing the patients come back to show us their “new self” without the tumor or the deformity. Moments like that, reminded me why I decided to volunteer in the first place and kept me going on difficult days.”

Biggest Challenges

There were tough days. Echu says that one of her biggest challenges while working with Mercy Ships was being away from her family, home, and community. But another difficult part was when she had to say “No” to people they couldn’t help.

“This is a part of my job that we don`t talk much about. The ship has specific surgeries they do when they sail in a nation. However, there are patients who present with conditions that are not within Mercy Ships scope of practice and that`s when we get to do ‘no’ conversations. Screening nurses initiate that conversation before the chaplaincy team on the ship takes over,” she says. “That was the most challenging thing about my job—having those ‘no’ conversations was never an easy thing to do. Most of the patients we see come with the hope of being helped, but when we have to say no to them, it almost feels like that hope crumbles before their very eyes.”

Greatest Reward

She also, though, had many rewards—the greatest of which was forming relationships with the ship’s community.  “The relationships I built during that time, [ones] that become an integral part of my life. The community is really special. Now, I have friends all over the world,” says Echu, who now lives in Minnesota. “I do not have family here in the United States, but I know friends with whom I worked with on the ship, [and they] are my family while I am here.”

Echu says she will never forget “the amazing patients I got to work with and their families and the joy they always had on their faces even without having much.”

If you’re a nurse thinking about volunteering with Mercy Ships, she says, “Do it! Go and see for yourself. Have an open mind and be ready to learn and receive as well,” she says. “Most volunteers go on the ship with the mindset of giving and serving which is good, but also go with the mindset of receiving. Receiving could be anything—like being welcome in the house of a local, or being encouraged by a patient who doesn`t have much, but they still have a big smile on their faces. It’s an experience that would change your life completely for good.”

“Nurse Alice” Shares What It Takes to Be a TV Health Expert

“Nurse Alice” Shares What It Takes to Be a TV Health Expert

Have you ever seen a health expert doing a spot on television and think, “Hey, I could do that?”

Then you’re in luck, because Alice Benjamin, APRN, MSN, ACNS-BC, FNP-B, CCRN, CEN, CV-BC, Chief Nursing Officer & Correspondent for Nurse.org, Clinical Nurse Specialist & Family Nurse Practitioner, and a critical-care and emergency medicine nurse with over 23 years of experience does just that. She also has her own podcast.

Benjamin gave us information about how she got into being a TV Health Expert.

Alice Benjamin, Chief Nursing Officer and Correspondent for Nurse.org, on ABC news segmentHow did you get into being a TV Health Expert? How long have you been doing it?

I have been long-term volunteer with the American Heart Association and was asked to do radio spots for them around being heart healthy. That then segued to different TV opportunities until the next thing you know it, I had become a freelance TV health expert on several shows and outlets, NBC Los Angeles being one of them. After about a year with them, they offered a paid position that required me to be exclusive to NBC locally, and I accepted the offer. I have been a TV health expert in total for about 10 years. I appear on NBC anywhere from 4-12 times a week depending on what’s going on in the news.

Explain to me briefly what you do as a TV Health Expert. Did you have to get additional training/education to do it? 

I take complex studies and medical information and translate that into simple bullet points for the audience. I use my expertise to sift through the studies to make sure it is reliable information and generalizable to the public, and if not—I explain that. I make sure that data isn’t regurgitated that isn’t helpful to public health.

I also take this opportunity to educate the public with information to help them make healthy and safe choices for themselves and families. I have taken several courses in communications and journalism to bring myself up to speed with the TV broadcast skill set. That coupled with my more than 23 years’ experience as an advanced practice nurse is what has duly prepared me to be in this role. I’ve also been a long-time community health advocate, so speaking to the general public has always been part of my wheelhouse.

What types of topics do you discuss? Do you suggest them or does someone at the station?   

Pitching topics is a shared role between myself and the producers. Sometimes they get stories before I do, and sometimes I see stories that need to be shared. I also have journalistic privileges that allow me to see studies before the public roll out so I get to help the station prepare a story for when that embargoed date comes.

What do you like most about working as a TV Health Expert?

I enjoy being able to speak to people before they become my patients. I enjoy educating and empowering people with information to help them live healthy lives. I also like to answer many viewer questions so they feel heard and provide them with some things to ask their main provider. I also love the fact that I am a nurse in this profession. There is not another nurse (that I know of) who is a regular health/medical contributor on TV.  

What are your biggest challenges as a TV Health Expert? What are your greatest rewards as one? 

My greatest reward is helping people. My biggest challenge is always having the time to do so. I still work as a nurse so making time to research, prep, and be on TV takes a lot of time and work.

If someone wanted to get into the type of side gig you’re doing, what steps would you tell them to take?

I get that question a lot and I’m always a little confused with how to answer it. I never sought out to be a TV health expert. It’s something that I fell into. It was a natural calling. And I happened to be in the right place at the right time.

My recommendation to others would be to study journalism and communications along with being a nurse. This isn’t something that you just pick up and do. It requires training and orienting for a specialty. Health media/communications is definitely a specialty.

Anything else?

Being on television as an advanced practice nurse talking to the masses about health, wellness, and medical issues has been extremely fulfilling. Some have told me that I make it look easy, but believe me it is not. As an experienced clinical nurse specialist and family nurse practitioner with lots of life experience, this has allowed me to feel comfortable with doing this. I still participate in media training provided by NBC. I am continuously learning communications, just as I am continuously learning health care as things change.

Community Pop-ups Founder KaSheta Jackson Wins ANA Innovation Award

Community Pop-ups Founder KaSheta Jackson Wins ANA Innovation Award

When KaSheta Jackson, DNP, RN, received a phone call telling her that she had won the Individual Nurse Award, one of the American Nurses Association’s (ANA) Innovation Awards, sponsored by Stryker, she says that she was speechless and shocked.

Jackson, who is the Vice President of Health Equity and Social Impact for Vidant Health in Greenville, North Carolina, says that she didn’t expect to win. “I knew the chance of winning was slim, but at least we would receive feedback to make this innovation better in the future. The feedback would help us improve the Community Pop-ups, [and] that was worth the submission.”

We interviewed Jackson about her program—what it is, who it has helped, and more.

KaSheta Jackson, DNP, RN

KaSheta Jackson, DNP, RN

When, why, and how did you develop “Community Pop-Ups: A Rural Approach.” When was the program actually implemented? Do you know how many people it has helped?

Our innovation started as a means to provide basic education and vaccinations in communities with low trust and hesitancy during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first Community Pop-up started April 24 in Dream Park. Team members and leaders from different organization/agencies provided services in non-traditional locations. We emphasized “unity” in the naming for events due to the goal of strengthening partnerships and reducing historical anxieties.

It’s hard to give exact numbers of how many people we have helped, but we know they provided care to more than 400 community participants, gave away 500 produce boxes, and delivered 500 health passports in rural locations across Eastern North Carolina. We collaborated with a local wireless company to offer free cellphones for eligible participants, with public assistance programs, like Medicaid or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

What is a health passport?

In July, Vidant launched a campaign called “Get your health back on track.” This campaign focuses on providing participants health care passports that showed age-specific/gender-specific screening schedules such as cervical cancer, mammograms, and colorectal cancer screening. The campaign provided a booklet with a checklist of all screenings by age and gender, as well as how to access MyChart and virtual health care visits. The health care visit app called VidantNOW offered primary care through the telemedicine capabilities free of charge. These booklets were provided at the Community Pop-ups along with matching tee shirts.

 How does this program work? What groups of people are helped? Why kind of care do they get? Do they make appointments or just drop in? Please explain. 

The Community Pop-up clinic occurs by community request and/or data assessment to create healthier communities through increasing access to health care, providing jobs, removing barriers, and addressing social, economic, and environmental factors. Participants can see a health care professional and get tests such as blood pressure and glucose monitoring, as well as information on advanced care planning, organ donation, and Mental Health resources, Covid vaccines, Covid testing, sign-up for health benefits, and employment opportunities are available also. No appointments needed. We use social media and both formal and informal leaders to spread the information. Our Pop-ups are helping individuals in rural Eastern North Carolina.

Why do you think that this model is important? How does it benefit the communities it serves in ways that other programs can’t?

This model is important due to limited resources (transportation, food, medical services, and other health resources) throughout the United States. The impact our innovation had on outcomes, safety, quality, experience of patients and staff were redefining relationships with formal and informal community leaders, reestablishing our stance as community partners, listening to concerns, and instilling pride in care team.

We met with community and faith leaders to understand what was needed in their communities. Rural residents often encounter barriers to health care that limit their ability to obtain sufficient access, so they historically have trust issues with health care. Having support from the community leaders encouraged more innovation efforts to focus on more than just health care. We understood education was essential hence seeking community colleges to partner at Community to showcase their programs. By collaborating with community leaders, providing resources they deem as valuable, and collaborating with other agencies who also have needed resources, we are addressing access through local channels and building trust as well as community ownership, which creates a generational standard for better quality of life.

In addition to coming up with the program, did you participate in it?   

This program was a hands-on program. I participated in every event except one over the 6-month period. From planning, designing, and coordinating, I was involved in every detail—but never alone in the planning. I was fortunate to have amazing peers who became dear friends to partner with like Shantell Cheek MAEd, RN, Director of Uninsured Programs, and Koai Martin, MHA, Administrative Resident, just to name a couple.

What was your favorite part about this whole experience? How was it to see that a program you developed ended up helping so many people?  

My favorite part of the whole experience is seeing the Community Pop-ups come together. It’s humbling and magical.

Anything else?

Our innovation has empowered many nurses to think and behave differently with regards to changing health care delivery and where care is delivered. By aligning community and the health care system, we are addressing social, economic, equity, and population health—which will be a win-win for all involved.

Consequences of Spreading COVID Misinformation

Consequences of Spreading COVID Misinformation

Believe it or not, during the COVID-19 pandemic, some nurses have been spreading misinformation about the virus and all its variants. Doing so, however, isn’t a small thing. In fact, you can lose your job over it.

Georgia Reiner, MS, CPHRM, Senior Risk Specialist with the Nurses Service Organization (NSO), took time to answer our questions about this bizarre phenomenon.

Spreading misinformation about COVID is wrong, no doubt. But nurses may not be thinking of the consequences that face them if they do it. Why can nurses face disciplinary action by their State Board of Nursing? How do they determine if information is incorrect?

Holding a nursing license means upholding the standards of the profession and the principles of the ANA Code of Ethics for Nurses. Spreading misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, treatment, and masking—either verbally or on public forums or social media—can be harmful to public health and the nursing profession. When nurses identify themselves by their profession, The National Council of State Board of Nursing (NCSBN) says that they are accountable for the information they share with the public. Using nursing credentials to discuss medical information can be considered nursing practice because the public views nursing credentials as evidence of a nurse’s knowledge and trustworthiness. As such, the NCSBN says that nurses who disseminate COVID misinformation can face disciplinary action from their State Board of Nursing, which can jeopardize their license and career.

The NCSBN defines misinformation as “distorted facts, inaccurate or misleading information not grounded in the peer-reviewed scientific literature and counter to information being disseminated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”

What are some tips that can help nurses spot misinformation online?  

It can be difficult to differentiate between factual information and news that comes from legitimate sources from rumors, opinions, falsehoods, and conspiracy.

Here are some tips to help nurses spot misinformation online:

  • Analyze both the content and the source.
    • Does anything seem too good to be true? Does information seem dramatic or overblown? If something seems outrageous, check with reputable news sources and fact checkers to confirm what may have really happened.
    • Does the author use sensationalistic language or lack specific evidence? Opinion and news commentary represent a point of view, while fact-based writing or analysis represent facts that are framed in appropriate context. Examine supporting evidence to see if the cited sources are reputable and if they support the claims being made.
    • Is the source of this information fake news or satire? In today’s world, sometimes satire can seem somewhat plausible. When you’re checking sources, visit the “About” or “Contact Us” section of its website. If it is satire, it should say so on the site, and illegitimate sources won’t share information about their mission, staff, physical location, or a way to contact the organization.
  • Examine the author
    • What other content have they produced in the past? Reviewing an author’s past work can reveal an agenda or point of view if they have repeatedly published content on the same topic.
    • Try to identify the intent behind the post or information. Information can be deliberately altered to push an agenda, such as damaging someone’s reputation, endorsing a belief system, or getting users to click on or share an article to help drive advertising revenue.
  • Engage in self-reflection
    • Evaluate how the information fits into your pre-existing beliefs. People often rely on their personal beliefs to understand evidence, and confirmation bias leads people to seek out information that supports their pre-existing beliefs.
    • Check to see if there are any articles refuting what you read. Oftentimes, when a piece of misinformation becomes mainstream, reputable authors will provide evidence that explains why a particular claim is false.


 How can nurses address incorrect information or misperceptions with their patients? With the public? What can/should they do in either case?

Nurses and other health professionals play a critical role in proactively engaging with people to help counter COVID misinformation. One of the most effective strategies is to use personalized, individual communication.

When nurses speak with their patients and the public, they should understand that using shame or embarrassment can often lead to the opposite intended effect. Fact-checking to prove a point can also shut down a conversation. It’s important to be patient, caring, understanding, and empathic. People have different needs, backgrounds, and experiences that shape their fears and beliefs. Nurses should try to focus on the bigger issue and the person’s feelings about the issue, rather than the false claims they may support. Asking questions and listening with empathy are great ways to understand perspective.

It’s critical for nurses to acknowledge that finding credible information online is challenging. If they’re open to assistance, nurses can help people identify reliable sources for accurate information or connect them with another health professional who can help them make informed decisions on their own.


Anything else?

In our highly polarized political environment, some nurses may believe it is effective to use their nursing credentials online to validate the opinions they share. However, the internet is written in ink, not pencil. You can have conservative privacy settings in place, and you can try to delete posts after the fact, but the best defense against allegations of unprofessional behavior online is to exercise caution before posting anything related to your nursing practice or health care in the first place.

Celebrate Nurses on Random Acts of Kindness Day

Celebrate Nurses on Random Acts of Kindness Day

In celebration of Random Acts of Kindness Day on February 17, we asked about what kinds of sweet things that either you could do for other nurses or that others could do for you.

Nurses have had a rough couple of years on the front lines of this pandemic, so take a moment to show the nurse(s) in your life that you care with one of the suggestions below.

Babysit for a nurse: A lot of nurses are mothers, and finding childcare is a huge stressor for so many. One way you could show love to the mom nurses in your life is to reach out and offer your availability to babysit.

Help getting to work: Nurses are essential workers and have to be at work, but many of them don’t have the vehicle needed to safely get to and from when the weather gets bad. Using your social media, you can set a ‘Drive Nurses to Work on Bad Weather Days’ community.

Provide a meal to a nurse: Nurses often work 12-hour, rotating shifts that make it really difficult to not only find time to get to the grocery store but to even make a home-cooked meal for their families.  A homemade, nutritious meal goes such a long way for nurses—it will not only warm their stomachs but their hearts as well.

Shovel their driveway in the winter, mow the lawn in the summer: A simple, but kind act like shoveling snow or cutting the grass can make a world of difference for a nurse.

Make a Card for a Nurse: If you don’t have a nurse in your life, one way you could show love to nurses is to have you or your kids make some homemade cards for the nurses at your local nursing homes and hospitals.

—Rebecca Love, Chief Clinical Officer of IntelyCare

Nurses work long hours—sometimes on very little sleep—so a great random act of kindness for nurses is to buy a stack of Starbucks gift cards and drop them off at the hospital. That way, the nurses can treat themselves before their shift and start it off with plenty of liquid energy. Gift cards for local restaurants, like Chipotle, are also a great choice as well—it beats cafeteria food and who doesn’t love a burrito the size of your head at the end of a long shift?

—James Green, Owner, Build A Head

The end of a nurse’s shift is often one of their lowest points. While it’s true that they’re finally done and can go get some rest, they’ve also likely been through 12+ hours of messy, emotionally demanding work in which they saw people at their very worst. If you can find an entrance at your local hospital where staff come and go, it can make their day to be waiting out there with a small gift like a flower or some chocolates. That small gesture of human kindness, right at the point when they’re at their lowest, can go a long way.

—Devon Fata, CEO, Pixoul

Regarding everybody you interact with, regardless of whether you do as such with a comforting smile, true embrace, blossoms, a thank you, or treats. Supporting a chance to do basic things that cause others to feel significant and unique is priceless. Research has demonstrated these acts are great for your state of mind and by and large wellbeing. Leave a note or a goody for the nurse who treated you.

—Brent Hale, Chief Content Strategist, Tech Guided

Random acts of kindness can be one way to recognize a colleague in a meaningful way. During such trying times, meaningful recognition — one of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses’ six Healthy Work Environment standards — takes on even greater relevance and importance. Meaningful recognition takes shape in countless ways. The key is to learn what is meaningful for each person we wish to recognize. We have many opportunities to recognize others and share moments of gratitude and recognition. Listen. Let them know we see, hear and understand them. Adopt a daily practice of sharing moments of gratitude with others.  And studies continue to show that, after recognition from patients and families, nurses find recognition from their peers as most meaningful. Seemingly small actions may be just what a colleague needs to be uplifted in the moment.

—Beth Wathen, MSN, RN, CCRN-K, president of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)

A great act of kindness for nurses is to send a note of thanks. You can send these to specific nurses in your life, or simply drop some off at a hospital or doctor’s office. Either way, there’s nothing better than being told that others appreciate you and what you do. It’s a simple way to show you care.

—David Angotti, CEO, HawaiianIslands.com