Making a positive impact 3,000 miles away

Published 11.21.2019

Jillian Hiestand

by Jillian Hiestand

Nursing student


I always knew my life’s purpose was to serve others through nursing. However, I never imagined I would find myself in the small town of Nueva Santa Rosa, Guatemala, doing just that.

As a senior nursing student at Penn College, I was eligible to travel to Central America with a group of peers and a faculty member to assist in a fully functioning medical clinic alongside Glens Falls Medical Missions. With a deep desire to travel internationally and use my nursing skills, I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I could not pass up. Next thing I knew, I was packing for a nine-day trip over 3,000 miles away. Once in Guatemala City, we met our other team members, who had traveled from various locations in the United States and Canada. In just one day, our team of 37 transformed a school into a multi-disciplinary clinic for women’s health, general medicine, pediatrics, education/nutrition, psychology, and dentistry, in addition to a full pharmacy.

My role in the clinic began with triaging patients before they were seen by various providers. We saw infant, toddler, adolescent, adult, and senior patients. With the help of a translator to communicate, I used my nursing knowledge to ask questions and learn about each patient’s specific health concerns. This allowed me to have a full picture of their overall health and decide which providers they needed to see. Although challenging at times, I was amazed at my ability to recognize symptoms related to conditions I had learned in school so far. Later that week, I had the opportunity to spend a full day in pediatrics, as well as women’s health, alongside respective providers for insight into their specialty. In five days, we saw and treated a total of 1,194 patients of all ages.

Since my arrival back in the States, the list of reasons to be thankful for my health are endless.

It’s difficult to appreciate basic needs such as clean water, fresh air, food, and access to health care until you see a culture lacking all of those elements.

Still, every community member of Nueva Santa Rosa was very kind and endlessly appreciative. The happiness in a child’s eyes when they received a single toy car was beautiful to see. I will never forget a little girl, Sofia, with the brightest brown eyes, to whom I gave a car – we played for almost an hour, and she never stopped smiling.

My biggest goal in life is to make a positive impact wherever I go, because you never know what another person is going through. To make a difference in the lives of others, I will never work a day in my life – I will wake up excited to be a light for someone else. As Florence Nightingale once said, “I attribute my success to this: I never gave or took an excuse.” I hope to become the strongest nurse I can possibly be while continuing to learn and grow in my nursing practice, no matter how far it takes me.

The travel abroad experience in Guatemala has opened my eyes to a deeper passion for nursing. Working in health care goes beyond the textbook description and involves compassion, therapeutic communication, and acting in your patients’ best interests. With the support of my family, peers, nursing faculty, and the Penn College community, we were able to provide health care, as well as numerous toys, books, toothbrushes, clothing articles, and more. 

Making an impact on a community in need has made me feel as if I am beginning to make a difference in the lives of others. Without Pennsylvania College of Technology, this amazing opportunity would not have been possible, and I will forever cherish the memories I made in Nueva Santa Rosa, Guatemala.