Nurses Without Borders
March 11, 2011 -- Today the Herald-Mail (Hagerstown, Maryland) ran a generally helpful piece by Tiffany Arnold about veteran local nurse Linda Altizer, whose diverse career includes her current work as a "forensic investigator" as well as occasional trips to do development work overseas for the "medical missionary" group "Nurses Without Borders" (although the piece may mean the Georgia-based Christian charity Nurses for the Nations). The article focuses on Altizer's recent trip to rural Liberia, where she trained nurses and conducted malaria testing. The report also provides background about malaria, which affects hundreds of millions worldwide and is a particular threat to young children. The piece emphasizes the role that Christian faith plays in Altizer's work, though it manages to avoid the angel stereotype. It might have been good to hear more specifics about the teaching and malaria testing Altizer did, as well as her work in forensics. Still, the piece tells the public that nurses can use their skills to help society in a variety of important ways, from the cradle to the grave, and there is no suggestion here that physicians are directing nursing work. Indeed, the piece actually mentions that Altizer worked "alongside" her late husband, a physician, when they practiced at a local hospital. And we appreciate the names "Nurses Without Borders" and "Nurses for the Nations," since we assume those are more accurate descriptions of who is doing the actual work than "Doctors Without Borders," the name that group continues to use although nurses are the most numerous health professionals among its volunteers. We thank Ms. Arnold and the Herald-Mail for this article.
The article leads off with the life/death contrast of Altizer's current projects, noting that when the forensic investigator "isn't determining a cause of death, she's traveling the globe trying to help the living." Altizer has reportedly been on "mission trips to three other countries through her church, Ringgold Church of Christ, and through other Christian, humanitarian organizations." Altizer "has taught nurses in central India and has helped build churches in Ecuador." The piece says that "Nurses Without Borders" coordinated her Liberia trip, but it also says that Altizer met "Nurses for the Nations founder Mary McMahon" through someone she met in India. That mention, along with the fact that Nurses for the Nations appears to have projects in the above nations, makes us wonder if Altizer's work has really for the Nations group, a small, Georgia-based Christian charity that focuses on global health and development with an evangelical element, rather than with "Nurses Without Borders," which has no obvious Internet presence. In any case, Altizer speaks generally about her overseas trips, noting candidly that she is actually surprised that she loves doing them: "When I get there, there's no restrooms, there's no food, there's no running water, but I love the people there and I love being there to help them."
The piece focuses on Altizer's Liberia trip and gives a surprising amount of detail on that nation and its malaria problem. The report says that for nine days she "trained new nurses and administered malaria testing kits to residents in the most rural reaches of the country, which has been struggling to rebuild since its civil war ended in 2003." The piece also relies on Altizer herself for some of the basic information about malaria. She is quoted as saying that "malaria is the No. 1 killer of children in Liberia." Altizer shows the reporter photos of some of the children she met; many have distended stomachs, and Altizer notes that food is "not plentiful."
Ironically, Altizer said, there's not enough fresh water to drink in the regions she visited, despite the pools of standing water she encountered due to heavy rains. Standing water is what attracts mosquitoes, which spread the malaria.
So although Altizer isn't quite presented as a malaria expert, she does convey some important information. The piece explains the basic malaria symptoms, and cites statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. The CDC seems to be the source for the fact that among the hundreds of millions of malaria cases every year, "most of the estimated million malaria deaths were among young children, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa." Similarly, the piece cites the WHO for the idea that Liberian kids under 5 years old are more likely to get and to die from malaria than Liberian adults are. Yet the reporter notes that "the children in the photos [Altizer] showed were smiling." Altizer says that "even though they're poverty stricken, they're happy kids." The piece closes by linking her work to her Christian faith, noting that that is what "enables her to deal with facing death," and that although she did not work with the dying in Liberia, her faith did help her deal with the lack of infrastructure and resources there. She also suggests that the Liberian kids with whom she worked "can see God in us."
The piece includes a little background information about Altizer. It notes that she was in the first nursing program at Hagerstown Community College, "a class that will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year." Altizer "has held many positions with Washington County Hospital and spent 10 years training the hospital's new nurses." It was there that she "worked alongside her former husband, the late Tom Altizer, an orthopedic surgeon," though she "has since remarried." The piece notes briefly that Altizer is "currently a forensic investigator for Washington County." It would have been helpful to hear a little more about that work, which is a growing field for nurses but still probably not something most readers expect to hear that nurses are doing. What exactly does Altizer do for the County? How does she use her nursing skills?
On the whole, this article provides a good portrait of a veteran nurse doing important, interesting work, both in her formal jobs and in her efforts to raise awareness by talking to the media about malaria and developing nations. The piece also presents Altizer as a person with some health knowledge, although we might have wished for more specifics about how she uses her nursing skills and experience in the malaria project. At least there is no suggestion that the nurses there are doing anything at the direction of physicians, whether the charity is "Nurses for the Nations" or "Nurses Without Borders." So the piece also reinforces the idea of nursing autonomy. We pause over media accounts that link nursing to specific religions, particularly because of the angel stereotype, which still suggests that nurses are low-skilled spiritual beings who are all about love and comfort and can be asked to endure anything, rather than modern health professionals. However, although this piece implies that Altizer is serving her God, it does not link that explicitly to nursing as a profession or imply that good nurses must be Christians.
We thank Tiffany Arnold and the Herald-Mail.
See the article "Linda Altizer trained nurses, offered malaria testing kits during trip to Liberia," by Tiffany Arnol,d published in the March 11, 2011 Herald-Mail. You can contact Ms. Arnold at firstname.lastname@example.org