By Laura L. Acosta
UTEP News Service
Two years ago, Adrian Perez, a nursing student at The University of Texas at El Paso, was halfway through running the 26.2 mile Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range when a member of his UTEP ROTC team fell ill with muscle fatigue and dehydration.
“At the time, I knew a little bit of what was going on because I have a military medical background,” said Perez, an Army medic for more than 10 years. “We knew that something had happened and the best that we could do was get him some help.”
This year, Perez was one of 38 students from the UTEP School of Nursing who, for the first time, helped provide medical support for dozens of participants at the 25th annual Bataan Memorial Death March on March 22.
The yearly march commemorates the 78,000 heroic American and Filipino service members who were taken captive while defending the Philippines during World War II and forced to walk more than 60 miles without key provisions.
Participants walk or run either a marathon-length 26.2-mile route or a 14.2-mile route through the high desert terrain of White Sands Missile Range, which can result in heat-related illnesses, sunburn, or foot and ankle injuries that require medical attention.
“(This) was an opportunity for the students to give back to the military community, and to learn how to care for patients in an open, community setting,” said Melissa Wholeben, Ph.D., a clinical nursing instructor at UTEP.
Wholeben believes that events like the Bataan Memorial Death March give students an opportunity to learn firsthand about the health care needs in their community.
“By participating in different community activities throughout the semester, the students are able to see the importance of preventive care and will apply this knowledge in their nursing career, whether they are hospital-based or community-based,” Wholeben said.
Students worked alongside experienced nurses from William Beaumont Army Medical Center (WBAMC) in the acute and non-acute medical tents to provide supervised medical care for nonthreatening medical conditions (such as blister care) and serious life-threatening issues (such as hyperthermia, seizures or dehydration).
“Students benefit from events like this because it is an opportunity to promote the practice of professional nursing through leadership activities,” said Yvette Luna-Bowen, a nursing clinician educator at UTEP. “Students at this level (in their eighth semester of nursing school) are assuming more responsibility and accountability for the quality of nursing care provided to our diverse individuals and populations in the El Paso community, whether it is in an acute care or a community setting.”
Perez was in the non-acute medical tent where he and his classmates helped treat a constant flow of marchers who were exhausted and dehydrated after they crossed the finish line.
After taking their vital signs and doing a general assessment, students followed doctors’ orders and provided fluids, pain medication or treated foot blisters before sending participants on their way.
For Perez, providing nursing care in a medical tent was far different than working in a hospital where he has access to medical equipment and plenty of supplies.
“We had three or four blood pressure cuffs for 20 people, so we were constantly passing them around, looking for (supplies) and walking into each other,” said Perez, who is doing his clinical rotation in the intensive care unit at WBAMC. “I think it helps the most not to take anything for granted as far as relying on technology.”
Out of the 38 students who volunteered, 33 are in their final semester of the undergraduate nursing program at UTEP and have developed their nursing skills through different learning experiences, including a critical care course. The remaining five students are in their first semester of nursing school and are members of the Texas Nursing Students’ Association.
To prepare for the event, faculty members organized a first aid review course for students. Jose Blanco, a clinical nursing instructor, covered such topics as the professional responsibilities of health care providers, heart attacks, wounds, thermal burns, joint and muscle injuries, diabetic emergencies, heat related injuries, seizures and snake bites.
Guillermina Solis, Ph.D., an assistant clinical professor of nursing, volunteered at the march and saw her students put their skills to work.
“(It was) rewarding because I got to see the youth in action, and got to spend time with my colleagues,” Solis said. “The most rewarding was teaching basic nursing skills, ace bandaging and wrapping, and serving those wonderful soldiers.”
Military College Student Experience: Adrian Perez (University Career Center – YouTube)