Janine Do* is a globetrotter, and nursing is a career that meshes perfectly with her wanderlust. With a BA in Psych and an MA Psychology already under her belt, Janine decided to go for first an AA, then a BS in Nursing after working abroad during her summer vacations. Currently an RN working in postpartum for a well-regarded hospital in Southern California, Janine is on her way back out into the world and agreed to talk to us about her unique approach to her career. If you’ve ever thought about taking a nursing career on the road, maybe Janine’s experience will inspire you.
Janine, you worked in orphanages and group homes in Costa Rica the summer after finishing your bachelor’s degree, and you volunteered in Haiti for a month while you were a nursing student. Do you feel like these experiences planted the seed for you to want to work in more developing areas, or is it the other way around?
I have always been drawn to helping professions as I really love helping people. Right before I graduated with my master’s degree, their Costa Rica program was created. I went on the first year as a student and then went back as a teaching assistant to the professor the other two times.
The Costa Rica trip/field study really impacted me, and I just knew that from then on I had to work in developing countries. My professor also greatly shaped my interest in international work.
What was it that pulled you from psych to nursing?
Initially my goal was to get my PhD in psych, but as I was getting my master’s and thought about it more and more, I thought it would be a good combo to cover both mental and physical health. Also, the medical world seemed a bit easier in some ways in terms of being able to work anywhere, not that you can’t with psychology, but there tends to be more cultural complications/interpretations with psychology when going into other countries.
Do you feel like your psych training has affected your approach to nursing?
Definitely! Both the formal schooling and the fieldwork have greatly impacted my nursing. I think I have a wider perspective when interacting with patients and families and am able to think about how mental health can affect physical health and vice versa. The two are so interrelated that it’s hard to separate them.
I think most people trained just in the medical world often only think of the physical problems when mental health is a huge factor. My work with children with developmental delay was mainly conducted in home settings, which allowed me to be comfortable in a wide variety of environments (sometimes crazy ones!).
Now that you’ve been working in SoCal hospitals for three years, what elements of the developing nations opportunity are calling you away from a stable job in a sterile environment?
Good question! This might be hard for me to summarize in words. I just feel drawn to work with people in impoverished situations. Not that I don’t make an impact at the hospital I’m working at now, but I feel like I can make a bigger impact by getting out in the world.
You’re hoping to apply for Doctors Without Borders soon. What was it about this particular organization that attracted you in the first place?
Honestly, initially I just thought it sounded cool before I even knew much about it. I knew they did work in many developing countries, and it seemed like a well-respected humanitarian organization. I have always believed that every human, no matter their background, is deserving of proper medical treatment and care, and MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières – Doctors Without Borders in French) was a way I thought I could actively be involved in that. It just sort of became my goal when I decided to switch career paths to the medical world.
I have always enjoyed working with children, and now I am a postpartum RN, which I enjoy because I work with not only babies but also the entire family unit. The majority of MSF’s patients are women and children.
Doctors Without Borders requires three years of nursing experience in a hospital setting before you can apply—is that correct? Was that the only reason you pursued working in a U.S. hospital?
Yes, that’s correct—three years of experience. Initially it was two years of experience, but they recently changed it to three years (not sure exactly when that change occurred), but this wasn’t my only reason for working here. I thought it would be a good idea to get a solid base regardless of what I ended up doing. I also think it’s always a good idea to see both sides of the spectrum—our facilities, training, education, etc. are high quality, so I thought it would create a good foundation before experiencing the medical world in a developing nation.
Based on your schooling and personal research, do you feel like nursing with relief and aid organizations is a career option for nurses that offers a real future? How would you characterize its benefits?
What do you mean in terms of a “real future?” Being able to support oneself? I guess it just depends on what people want out of life. It’s definitely not the area to go into for making a lot of money. It’s sustainable, but it provides for a simple life.
I think the overall benefits are slightly different than working in a typical hospital. You don’t have the monetary factor, and I think that people who are drawn to aid organizations are hoping to make a stronger impact on the world (not that U.S. hospital nurses don’t).
Do you know personally of any resume benefit aid/relief nursing has when applying for more mainstream positions?
I think in any job these days, management likes to see a variety of experiences—and not just a variety, but unique experiences. Being able to work in a very uncontrolled environment with minimal supplies and with a culturally diverse group of people is a nice skill set to have. Being adaptable is also a huge asset!
Interested in knowing more about Doctors Without Borders? Click here to read about their requirements for fieldwork!
*Ms. Do’s name has been changed out of consideration for the fact that she describes career aspirations here beyond her current position.
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