Honduras experience compels nursing student to expand international clinical rotation opportunities

Taking part in a surgical mission trip to Honduras so moved a Western Carolina University student nurse anesthetist that she and a classmate have centered their graduate research project on involving more students in international clinical rotations.

Kylee Baquero, a student registered nurse anesthetist in WCU’s nurse anesthesia program, participated in a Hope for Honduras mission earlier this year and is working with WCU nurse anesthetist student Sallie Porter on expanding international opportunities for students.

“Administering anesthesia in a rural, third-world operating room presents complex situations, a demanding environment and the use of antiquated equipment and drugs – experiences not as easy to come by in our modern western world,” said Baquero. “We benefit from learning how to deliver a safe anesthetic without depending on monitors and machines. The purpose of an international clinical rotation is not only to develop a sense of philanthropy, but also to take students back to a time when anesthetists always had a finger on the pulse, used their senses to assess their patients and never turned their back on the operating field.”

In March, Baquero joined Ken and Martha Walker, a husband-and-wife team of certified registered nurse anesthetists from Asheville Anesthesia Associates, and Dr. Nathan Williams, gynecological oncology specialist with Hope Cancer Center in Asheville, on the medical mission trip to Honduras. The team, supported by the center’s Hope for Honduras initiative, provided life-saving surgery to rural Honduran women who had gynecological cancers but lacked access to health care or funds to pay for it.

Baquero helped provide anesthesia for surgical patients, participated in community education for cancer prevention and donated time, food and diapers to three orphanages. Martha Walker, who has more than 30 years of experience as a nurse anesthetist, said Baquero was an asset to the team.

“Her fluency in Spanish was invaluable for communicating with and comforting our patients, and for interacting with the Honduran hospital staff,” Walker said. “She is very receptive to learning new techniques and sought opportunities to learn from us as well as the Honduran anesthetists. There was no aspect of our work, even the cleaning and organizing tasks, that she did not embrace with enthusiasm.”

Baquero said the experience raised her cultural awareness and sense of philanthropy, expanded her adaptability and flexibility, and challenged her to use her senses and instincts to overcome challenges. She said she also came away with a deeper understanding of alternative health care systems and global health.

“About 15 CRNAs at Asheville Anesthesia Associates and Dr. Williams donated money for my trip,” said Baquero. “It so inspired me that I want to create a fund for future anesthesia students who want to go as well.”

What led Baquero to the field of nursing anesthesiology was an exploration of advanced nursing career paths while she was in nursing school at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.

“I shadowed some CRNAs and thought what they did was amazing,” she said. “Their work required them to be diligent, intelligent and dedicated, and to have keen observation, manual dexterity and compassion.”

“I realized the qualities that it takes to work in nursing anesthesia are qualities that I have, and I feel lucky to have found a career that I genuinely and completely love,” said Baquero. “I respect and admire all the nurses who have defended the profession and who are practicing anesthesia today.”