James Madison University

Overcoming Disaster

By: Brett Seekford
Posted: September 26, 2014

PHOTO: Nursing students work together

Linell Patterson, a graduate nursing student, did not know much about the field of disaster nursing prior to a disaster relief workshop in Japan. Although this branch of nursing had always interested her, she had not had an opportunity to explore it, which led to her application to join Dr. Maria deValpine in Japan.

James Madison University’s trip to Japan has been a mainstay of the department for several years through their involvement with the International Network of Universities. The Department of Nursing got involved roughly three years ago, extending opportunities for both faculty and students to travel abroad.

This past spring, deValpine was invited to participate in the disaster relief workshop due to her background in public health. After she agreed to go, she was tasked with choosing a student to accompany her and she selected Patterson.

“She seemed skilled, experienced to some extent, and very, very open-minded and enthusiastic about the travel and the hardships of travel,” said deValpine in explaining her choice.

Their time in Japan was marked by both work and unforgettable cultural experiences. While deValpine and Patterson worked more so alongside their individual cohorts throughout the workshop, they both stated that they appreciated the multicultural format as they interacted with students and faculty from countries as far apart as Spain and Indonesia. Their work certainly shaped their time in the country as well, as Japan faced both an earthquake and a typhoon while they were there, making the lessons they learned especially relevant.

PHOTO: Hiroshima dome

The workshop itself was very structured and included daily lectures on the field of disaster nursing, along with other activities. “Throughout the week we worked in small groups to create a disaster plan for an individual scenario; my group focused on how nurses would help a community that experienced a bomb explosion the day of the explosion, 24 hours after the explosion, and finally a year after the explosion,” Patterson said. “The interesting thing about working in this group was learning the perspectives of all of the other students, who could bring their own countries’ expertise and nursing theories to the table.”

Along with the workshop, the participants experienced Japanese culture by visiting many destinations in the country, including shrines, temples and museums. They also ate traditional Japanese cuisine and practiced kendo, a form of martial arts in Japan involving swords.

Patterson explained the most moving experience she had overseas: “By far, my favorite activity was participating in the lantern ceremony. Everyone makes a paper lantern with a wish written on it (often a wish for peace), and floated them down the river in the evening.  Seeing hundreds of wishes for peace drifting in the dusk was one of the most beautiful and powerful, manmade things I’ve ever experienced.”

Both deValpine and Patterson took away lessons that will affect both their careers. Regarding the field of nursing, deValpine said, “You have to know your people and your culture if you’re going to help them.” She went on to state that she would further emphasize the cultural aspect of nursing because “public health is as much about where people come from, what they’re accustomed to and what their strengths are.” deValpine will now be attending each successive workshop, overseeing a section of it and gaining further knowledge about the field of disaster nursing.

As for Patterson, her career trajectory has changed slightly since her time in Japan. While she would still like to work as a family nurse practitioner in a health department or student health center, she now also hopes to enter the field of disaster nursing in some capacity. “I believe that my nursing career will hold an aspect of disaster nursing, certainly,” she stated. “Technically speaking, I will pursue trainings that will increase my clinical skills in emergency medicine, which wasn’t part of my plan pre-Japan.  I also plan to participate in Red Cross trainings and volunteer work.”