Laker Grad Becomes Off-Grid Nurse
Justina Thomas Takes The Path Less Traveled
Since I was fourteen years old, I’ve wanted two things for my future. I’ve wanted to be a nurse and career missionary. Several of my family members have been career missionaries, and I’ve wanted to follow in their footsteps to serve people in inspiring ways.
After high school, I traveled with two of my siblings to a mission station called Kimbia on the Berbice River in Guyana, South America. We stayed there for a year, and I experienced health care in a remote setting firsthand. That experience, much to my parents’ surprise, solidified my dream of being a missionary nurse.
I didn’t enroll in nursing school right away, though. First, I attended a natural remedies school, where I learned about herbs, water treatments, and basic anatomy and physiology. From there, I was invited to complete Midwife Training School in Ranchi, Jarkhand Province, India, where I assisted in over 60 village births that year.
My year in India confirmed my passion for midwifery and mission work. But, it also convinced me that I needed broader training in order to help with all of the healthcare needs that remote locations face. Though my specialty was midwifery, I was called upon to assist in health issues ranging from broken bones to tumors. I simply didn’t know enough.
I pursued further education by enrolling at an expensive private college. Soon after, I dropped out, discouraged by how lost I felt in the sea of people and my increasing debt.
My struggles at school were compounded by caring for my mother who was fighting a losing battle with cancer. That’s the sort of journey that changes everything. I’m thankful that I could be there with my mom through her last days. One of her final wishes was for me to get a college degree.
"I really love my job. I'm so thankful for my education at Mid and that it prepared me for this journey."
I decided to attend Mid after visiting the College and researching its nursing program. Every part of my experience at Mid confirmed that it was where I was supposed to be.
The staff was friendly, the teachers genuinely cared about helping me learn, and my co-workers rooted for me to succeed in both work and studies. Just as importantly, I was getting an exceptional education.
During clinical rotations, Mid students had reputations for working hard and knowing how to do things well. My clinical instructors engaged me in essential hands-on learning and encouraged me throughout my journey.
After three years, I graduated with my nursing degree and without any debt. My job hunt lasted three days.
On July 12, 2016, Adventist Frontier Missions (AFM) contacted me to say that they were in search of a short-term RN missionary for the Palawan project located in the Philippines. The position was unpaid, so the organization was looking for someone without debt. Five days later, I began training for a one-year term of service.
Since August 2016, I’ve worked as a nurse at Kemantian, a rural clinic in the mountainous islands of the Palawan region, Philippines. It’s beautiful and untouched—little bamboo villages are scattered across the bony spines of remote islands. And, the clinic itself is at such a high altitude that it is unreachable except by helicopter or on foot. The region has little access to modern advancements or means. Even seemingly basic goods like salt, blankets, and propane require a hike down the mountain, a ride into town, and a hike up the mountain carrying a heavy pack. Each trip takes hours and, depending on the weather, can be dangerous.
My bamboo house sits atop stilts. The wind blows through the spaces between wall and roof and between the bamboo strips that make up its floor. We sleep covered by mosquito nets, and only have enough electricity to run the oxygen concentrator for patients or to charge a cell phone, but not both.
Communication with the outside world is nearly impossible. Sometimes, we can get cell service at one little bamboo house up the hill, where we hang the phone from a cord attached to roof poles. If we stand on a bench and don’t touch the phone, we may be able to get a connection. For all of these reasons and more, it’s challenging to provide medical care. Carrie, my fellow nurse at the clinic, has been in the region for over five years. She helped me understand how to run the clinic and how to acclimate to living in the region. When she left for several months to get additional training, I assumed responsibility for the clinic as the region’s only RN.
As the only staff member, I’m often awake through the night providing care and performing vitals checks. I’ve invested countless hours reading about diseases and looking up drugs in reference books. Sometimes, those hours remind me of the homework and clinical paperwork I had to complete each week at Mid. And, I feel grateful for the ways that my college education developed my determination and critical thinking skills. These have been crucial in the jungle.
I treat many cases of malaria, TB, malnourished babies, pneumonia, skin conditions, and injuries from jungle accidents. Patients hike to the clinic if they’re able, or they are carried in on another person’s back. Occasionally, a whole village falls ill, and I stay with them until someone gets well enough to provide care to others. It’s hard work, and it can be scary and overwhelming. Sometimes, it’s incredibly difficult to be alone and to make the sorts of decisions that I need to make—life or death decisions at times. But, I find peace in prayer. And despite all of its challenges, I wouldn’t change my job as a missionary nurse for anything, and I have recently committed to serving in Palawan through August 2019.
Mid was a part of my journey to become a nurse, to travel to this place, and to serve these people. I’m so thankful for that!