In the past year, student Dena Sadi Abusrur has volunteered in two countries overseas, in three different areas while taking classes. Her most recent service trip was to Zambia and Greece, spending a month in Zambia and six weeks in Samos, Greece. In Greece, she provided primary care and emergency care to refugees, as well as wound assessment and treatment. In Zambia, she served in a family planning clinic and health education for women and secondary school kids.
“Health education I feel like is something that can be used universally and can assist in infection control and prevention,” she said. “The health disparities that I have seen are all things we take for granted in the U.S (clean water, hygiene, sanitation, vaccinations, family planning, tropical diseases). It would be amazing to develop policy to ensure universal access to basic necessities.”
She works with multiple service organizations but for this last trip she traveled with Med’EqualiTeam, a medical NGO based in France.
Dena first became involved in service because of her father, a former humanitarian that would go on surgical missions as an anesthesiologist as she was growing up. She remembers thinking she wanted to do the same by giving back “especially if you have a skill that is beneficial to a certain region.” In high school, she volunteered with many underserved populations including the homeless and elderly, which really helped shape her path to public health. She became a nurse for that very reason so she could travel to areas in need of health or humanitarian aid.
She gained two bachelor’s, a BA from the University of North Florida in Psychology and her BSN from Oakland University in Michigan. She’s been in the health field for the past 20 years, first in health administration then a cardiac RN at Yale New Haven Hospital and University of Washington Medical Center. Dena’s currently pursuing a Certificate in Environmental Health and intends to graduate this May then continue her education with an MPH. She hopes to change her focus to global health, community health management or health policy, while also working toward a dual Master in International Relations.
Of the many classes she’s taken for her certificate program, Zoonotic Diseases and Emergency Preparedness have come the most handy on her service trips. Zoonotic Disease in particular “has helped as we see a lot of tropical diseases that are not a problem in the US, but are endemic to the Middle East and Africa. I have been able to understand how the diseases were transmitted, the vectors, and treatment. This allowed our organizations to set up plans/ protocols to prevent the spread of the diseases.”
When asked about any advice Dena has for students looking to volunteer abroad, she said:
“You really have to do your research and ask yourself why you want to do it. There are A LOT of organizations that thrive on this volunteerism where you really are not going to help and can in fact do more harm than good. It is hard work what we do, my schedule in Greece was 6 days a week 8-11-hour days, where we saw 60-130 patients a day. You work with minimal resources in tense situations, it’s not for everyone. It is, however, one of the most humbling experiences and you meet wonderful people all there for a common goal, helping under-served populations. If you find a program that asks you to pay them anything more than accommodations, I would look a little deeper. As a volunteer, I pay for flights, food, and discounted accommodations which is usually dormitory style. Programs that ask you to pay $1,000 and up and take you on excursions and you only do about an hour of work a day as service…There are a lot of articles written about this very topic, and it really is important for people to understand the implications behind the organization they choose.”