Our Nurses of the Week are the nursing students from Northern Arizona University (NAU) who donate their time on an annual mission trip to Guatemala to treat women with cervical cancer and provide health screenings and education to as many Guatemalans as possible.

Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women in Guatemala, taking the lives of over 1,400 Mayan women per year. The disease is treatable when detected early, but women in the developing country don’t receive the regular checkups and treatment they need for early diagnosis. 31 percent of women diagnosed with cervical cancer in the US die each year, compared with 48 percent in Guatemala – quite a jump.

Dorothy Dunn, an assistant professor in the Northern Arizona University School of Nursing, became interested in Latin America while taking history classes as an undergrad. Gaining a passion for global outreach, she decided to find out why a curable cancer is killing so many Mayan women. Dunn tells News.NAU.edu,

“Because Guatemala is a low-resource country, women lack the regular checkups and treatment they need, resulting in a very late-stage cancer diagnosis. They are then placed on a waiting list of more than 2,000 people in hopes of living long enough to receive radiation treatment – most of whom don’t.”

This led Dunn to the Center for International Education, where she established an international study abroad program providing NAU nursing students with the opportunity to treat Mayan women through a partnership with the Guatemalan-based nonprofit, Nursing Heart Inc. NAU’s program is unique from other international programs in that a group of students returns to the same town and same people every year, providing them with annual ‘check-ups’ and checking on their patients’ progress.

Students from NAU have been traveling with Dunn annually to Santa Maria de Jesus since 2013 where over 500 people flock each year to receive treatment. They focus on women’s health care, spending the first three days providing Mayan women with cervical cancer screenings. It’s a program everyone benefits from as the women get treatment they don’t otherwise receive and students get hands-on experience and the chance to save lives.

Guatemala has also seen an influx in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. For many of the country’s poorer families, low-nutrient, high-calorie, high-sugar, and high-salt processed foods are all that are affordable. These diseases are often manageable in developed countries, but without adequate healthcare funding and access to medications, these diseases are causing even more early deaths in Guatemalans. Hoping to provide Guatemalans with preventative measures they can implement into their daily lives, Dunn and her students spend the fourth day at the clinic providing patient education.

To learn more about NAU’s Guatemalan study abroad program and Dunn’s involvement in founding and continuing its mission, visit here.

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