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Commencement feature: Medical trip inspires nursing graduate

Diane Wilds had plenty of reasons to say no to the opportunity.

Wilds, who was a stay-at-home mother for 20 years before pursuing a degree at Baker University’s School of Nursing, was offered a chance to travel to Niger, a country in western Africa, for a two-week medical project scheduled for September. Diane Cable, a nurse and acquaintance Wilds knew from her church, invited Wilds on the trip. On the final day of spring classes, Wilds received a phone message saying the trip had been moved to the first of August, and her spot was reserved. An answer was needed by the end of the day.Wilds_Diane

Because Wilds had concerns about her safety and was scheduled to arrive back in Kansas the weekend before classes for her final semester would begin, she hesitated to say yes to the opportunity. Jet lag and malaria were risks. It could be a difficult start to the semester.

But after teachers encouraged her to take this chance while she could and offered to help her catch up with school work once she returned, Wilds knew that beginning her final semester of nursing school with a real-world experience unlike any other was reason enough to accept the invitation.

Wilds talked to all of the fourth-level professors and some of the administration team. “I said, ‘you know, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,’” Baker Associate Professor Cindy Light said. “If this is something you really want to do, then you should go for it.”

Wilds spent the two-week trip working on an operational trial run for the Danja Fistula Center, a hospital that was set to open full time in August. The trial run performed surgeries for women with obstetric fistula, which occurs after complications from childbirth. Before the surgeries could be performed, Wilds and the other members of the 12-person team prepared the hospital by unpacking boxes of equipment and setting up the lights and beds needed for the surgeries. The team performed 14 surgeries and about 50 other clinical exams during the two-week period.

“You get a very different perspective,” Wilds said. “You know, we take for granted things that we can just go and pick up on the corner any time, anywhere. Gloves were a commodity. Alcohol wipes were a commodity. We didn’t use pumps. Everything was manual or by gravity.”

Although Wilds had discussed her skills with the nurses, she was still nervous about the work that might be needed. It took just the first night, being the only night nurse working with a post-op patient, for the nerves to disappear.

Wilds found that while in the hospital in Niger she relied on the same skills she had learned during her clinical rotations in nursing school. “I found immediately that the stress and the nervousness, the stress factor was just not there, and I was able immediately to perform the skills that needed to be performed,” she said.

Wilds credits her confidence and feeling of preparedness during her trip to Africa to the easily accessible Baker professors who are always willing to answer questions and find opportunities to teach.

“That sounds like it’s very reassuring, but what it has also done is it’s really given me the boost in confidence,” Wilds said. “It’s given me those pieces that you need to be able to walk in when you’re maybe not in your comfort zone and be able to put it all together.”

Light saw Wilds’ trip as a great service opportunity and a chance for her to gain hands-on experience she wouldn’t necessarily find in the United States. Light encourages her students to take those opportunities when they are presented and said Baker has the type of students who want to prepare themselves and learn as much as they can.

“We have those students that really are proactive about their learning,” Light said. “They want to learn, to go above and beyond, and I would say that 99.5 percent of them are like that.”

Wilds will graduate this weekend from Baker with a goal that was motivated by her trip and made possible by her route to school after raising her family.

“All of my children are in college, so what I have the ability to do that is a little unique, compared to my classmates, is when I finish and get some experience under my belt, I fully intend to take on the opportunity to experience missionary-based nursing,” Wilds said. “And partially that is because of my age, because of where I am in my life to be able to do that right now. But it’s a desire that I had before I came into nursing, and it solidified for me that I absolutely want to continue doing it.”