Raya Cupler, a pre-licensure nursing student at Chamberlain University’s Columbus campus, didn’t think twice about heading overseas to help refugees. During a time when all of her nursing classes were online, Cupler volunteered for two-and-a-half months at refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. While there, Cupler worked in primary care as well as women’s health and surgery. Due to limited resources, she learned to think outside the box and improved her critical thinking skills. When there aren’t enough resources available, you have to get creative.

“I decided to work with Syrian refugees because of my own,personal experiences as a child growing up in the Middle East. I experienced first-hand the effects of war from terrorist activity, resulting in my family being quickly relocated to the United States,” says Cupler. “I was also raised by my mum, who was a child of the Lebanese civil war, and she inspired me to be a part of the relief effort.”

Cupler didn’t travel to the Middle East with any specific organization. But upon arriving, she worked with local non-government organizations and international non-government organizations.

Here is an edited version of our interview:

Raya Cupler

Raya Cupler

What did you hope to accomplish while there?

I realize that my contribution is only a drop in the bucket for what refugees of war need. However, I hoped to show the refugees compassion that they did not receive prior and hoped to better understand how health care works within refugee camps and during times of war.

During the two-and-a-half months that you volunteered, what were some of the biggest challenges you faced?

As a Chamberlain nursing student, I certainly had a baseline of skills to provide to refugees. However, working in such a complex environment, it was a challenge to enhance my critical thinking skills and provide care to refugees. Additionally, it was traumatic emotionally. There was a set amount of resources available, which are not nearly enough for all the refugees in the camps. Part of my role was to make decisions on who will have the best outcome from a specific intervention, which was extremely difficult.

What were some of the greatest rewards?

The experience forever changed me, as well as my perspective on health care and the world. The greatest rewards were establishing a personal connection with the refugees and having them open up to me. As far as nursing, I gained a lot of confidence in my skills and in my critical thinking, which I will continue to leverage in my nursing career.

What were the most important things you learned while there?

Lately I feel that our world is lacking compassion. And, while we may all be divided by nationality, language, or beliefs, we need to be kind to one another. Any one of us can be a refugee of war, and the experience was eye opening. I realized the impact nurses and nursing students have on people and that we can change a person’s life through care. It is such an honor and privilege to be part of the nursing profession.

Would you do it again? Why? Why do you think other nursing students should do something like this?

Despite the heartache, trauma, and challenges I faced, I would experience it all over again in a heartbeat. While not yet as experienced as practicing nurses and other health care providers, nursing students can serve as a fresh pair of eyes and bring an open mind. Nursing students are not yet accustomed to anything being done a certain way, which uniquely positions us to adapt to a changing environment where you have to think outside the box in order to be successful.

If you are interested in this type of work, an excellent introduction is to start locally. There are a lot of opportunities to take care of international populations in your local community to ensure you are interested in pursuing this type of work before traveling internationally.

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.

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