I interview Kristi Westphaln, a pediatric nurse practitioner from San Diego who has also done medical mission work in other countries. Kristi shares a few stories and her views about
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For a full transcript of the episode, read on:
SHARON: Today’s episode was brought to you by VolunteerPro. VolunteerPro provides online volunteer management training, coaching, and community to volunteer leaders at all levels. Learn more at volpro.net.
Today’s podcast episode is recorded at WerkIt, WNYC’s studios podcast festival for women, in the pop up studio proudly powered by Cole Haan, committed to extraordinary women telling extraordinary stories.
Speaking of extraordinary stories, the fact that I got this interview is pretty extraordinary. My guest today is Kristi Westphaln and she and I met only 15 minutes ago. That is the power of the WerkIt podcasting festival. Big shout out to our new friend Kate, who introduced us.
KRISTI: I am a pediatric nurse practitioner. I did not know I wanted to go into the healthcare field, when I was a child. I literally grew up in kindergarten. My mom’s a kindergarten teacher, my dad’s high school, and all of my relatives in between they’re all in school, so you could say safely, I’ve been in school forever. I mean the conversations we had at our dinner table were all about education and teaching and I loved that. 20 years of kindergarten. My patients love that. One day I had the opportunity to care for a family member who was recovering from cardiac surgery, and … she’s kind of like a grandmother, her name is Lois, and I started to realize that I thought about becoming a teacher, but the caring portion, the helping portion of being a nurse, really drew me into that. So I am the only person in my family who has pursued a career in nursing.
SHARON: the only time I ever tried to work in anything medical, well in high school I was in girl scouts and we took a first aid training … yes all three fingers… this is the girl scout symbol… we’re on radio, they can’t see this. (laughter). We took this medical training, and I did have the foresight that if I just took this training and I never applied it it wouldn’t stick. I wouldn’t know what to do in case of an emergency. And I did not want to go into medicine, but I wanted to be there if there was an emergency for a friend or a family member or if I was just on scene. So I took this emergency response training and then I decided once I went to college that I would volunteer for an ambulance squad, because the town I was in had an all-volunteer rescue squad. And that’s crazy, why did I decide that was a good idea? Because the part you don’t know about me yet, is that I faint at the sight of blood.
SHARON: yea, yea…
SHARON: so, I was doing fine actually, mostly because I always seemed to get the really boring calls where nothing happened. In fact, people stopped wanting to volunteer while I was on shift because they said nothing interesting is going to happen. But finally, to move forward towards getting my EMT license, to move towards becoming an EMT, I had to do a rotation in the hospital and still nothing interesting was happening. But still, even just being there in the room when someone drew blood on a patient, I started to go. So I had to walk out into the hall. I was trying to keep my pride, so I didn’t want to faint in front of everyone, so I waited too long and I actually started to fall down in the hall of the hospital and the nurse caught me before my head hit the ground. So that was my last attempt at doing anything in the medical field that was helpful. I admire the fact that you can actually work in medicine and figure out how to do so, caring for people, while not falling down on the floor and fainting.
KRISTI: Yea, I think one of the reasons why the emergency department drew me, is because it is the only place in this country where it doesn’t matter where you came from. If you are from this country or another country, if you speak English or you don’t, if you have insurance or if you don’t, if you need help, you can walk into any emergency department and we can help you and I loved that. Healthcare in itself, the system, as we were talking about… complexities… a lot of people say that healthcare is complicated, but I would say it is actually really simple. We all need health in order to move forth. We all need to feel well. We are all going to experience challenges with our health moving forward and I think one of the ways that we can really help each other get through this journey is to remember that bumps in the road happen but we are not all ticking time bombs waiting to explode. We’re not all risks waiting to happen. We are full of resilience, full of strengths, and through that I think our healthcare system is actually evolving to become something that allows us to go through our journey and acknowledge wellness and strength instead of a risk based framework that has been more of a traditional health epidemiology kind of standpoint. I do believe as a nurse, as a person, that healthcare is a human right and if we don’t do our best to make sure we are advocating for that on a day to day basis, not just in grand gestures, but every day, talking about it and living it. I mean, that’s why I wanted to work in the emergency department. It was the only place in the American healthcare system where I could practice that way.
SHARON: I asked KRISTI where her belief in the right to healthcare and the need for equal access to healthcare came from.
KRISTI: I love my parents. I grew up in a very nontraditional family where we have many people that are related to us not by blood, but are family. My parents are educators, they’ve spent their entire life trying to bring education and trying to help the person that needed the most help in every room in every situation. So I mean my mom actually wasn’t born in the United States. She was born in Germany and after World War II my grandmother and my grandfather, my aunts and uncles and my mom, got on a boat and immigrated to New York. Came in through New York Harbor, ended up living in Flushing and I think that that experience of being embraced by this country, even though it was war torn and people weren’t really a big fan of Germans in general after world war two it just was part of everything. I think the immigration piece, there’s a lot of talk about DACA and immigration, and refugees… One of the best things about this country is we’ve been able to help people who have wanted to come here and make a better life and I am a product of that.
I am so proud that I come from a family that was willing to pick up everything they knew and start over in a new country… didn’t speak a lick of English, learned it, and I really think that foundation … I am grateful to my parents every day for giving me that and I really try to embody that when I am helping my children and my families. The clinic that I currently work in in San Diego is in a neighborhood called El Cajon and many of our patients that we take care, many of the kids that I take care of, our immigrants or refugees. I take care of a lot of Arabic children; I take care of a lot of children that speak multiple languages. I speak pretty decent medical Spanish. It’s such a gift to be able to work with these children and these families that have had similar life experiences to where my family came from. To let them know that it is a good choice that they came here and there is help here and even if things are a little volatile and there’s a lot of rhetoric and a lot of polarization of politics right now, when it comes down to this country, I mean we’ve always been known for helping others and I am so proud of that. I guess that is a long winded answer to your question of How did I know that I wanted to be in the ER? I knew I wanted to be in a place where I knew I could help anyone that needed me. My family really really helped lead me through that so…
SHARON: Yay mom and dad.
KRISTI: They’re awesome.
SHARON: I love my parents too.
AD BREAK: Our sponsor VolunteerPro has an impressive volume of resources, over 200 tools and templates as well as two live webinars per month. Do you work with volunteers? If yes, then this site is designed specifically for you. VolunteerPro is offering our listeners $100 off an annual membership. This is a limited time offer. Go to volpro.net and use the promo code PROPOWER. That’s volpro.net, promo code PROPOWER. Now we’ll get back to our interview with KRISTI. In this next segment KRISTI shares a tragic story about one of her young patients. It may be difficult to hear for some of our listeners. If you want to skip it, just jump ahead 90 seconds.
KRISTI: I had the opportunity to care for a family that had come in by ambulance. It was for a closed head injury. The child had been playing, fell, had hit his head and the mom had ended up calling EMS and the ambulance had come and he started to scream and cry and was horribly upset and it was almost disproportionate to the head injury. They came into the emergency department, got them into a room and I saw them and the mom was very upset and I could tell she was very upset and from that the story changed a little bit. We did the exam and reassured her that everything was fine with the neurological status of her child, everything was good, we didn’t see anything that would need any additional testing. Then we sat, took a deep breath, and she burst into tears. And so I sat down … I mean the Emergency Department isn’t always somewhere that you would think that you would have time to sit and have a conversation about feelings or other things but I just try to embed that into my practice. I believe that more of us should. We need to listen. People need us to listen and we have to pay attention to those cues in order to truly help. So I sat down next to her and started talking to her and she shared that she didn’t think that the head injury for this child was the big issue, but he just was screaming and his reaction scared her. A couple weeks, maybe a month previous to that one of her other children had actually committed suicide and his reaction the ambulance was because he had actually witnessed EMS coming in trying to save his brother and was unsuccessful with that. The sound of the ambulance was what had caused the reaction after the head injury, not necessarily the injury itself.
I can tell you many stories of patients in the ER or elsewhere where I think that a lot of times there are multiple factors and I think that social factors kind of shape health behaviors and health responses and just navigation through life are so important. We can’t think about healthcare in terms of just treating a disease or an illness or a specific problem, because it’s more than that. It’s not about the problem and fixing the problem. It’s about giving people the opportunity to again, let them share with you what they need to get through it. I think there’s magic to balancing the evidence and the research along with those personal experiences and it is the combination of those two elements that are going to help us be most effective when we are trying to help.
SHARON: Next I asked KRISTI about the work she has done abroad and her take on helping others in other countries.
KRISTI: A lot of people want to help, but is the help that is provided efficient, that provides good outcomes for people in need? Or is it being done to maybe look good on the surface but not necessarily get down to the root cause? I have had opportunities to go on healthcare missions to a couple different countries. One of them was the Dominican Republic. I have been twice to serve in the community of El Cercado through the University of San Diego. There is a strong relationship with the community and I think that one of the important things with health and fostering that is making sure you don’t go in somewhere with the standpoint of “I know everything and you must do what I say”. I think sometimes there is a hierarchy in healthcare and medicine with “You must do what we say, you have xyz diagnosis and in order to get better you must do these things”. But at the same time, I think that taking what a community needs and really listening to them and listening to their narratives and incorporating them into what you are trying to do is very important. If you are not listening to the voices that need the help, you are not going to be able to give them what they need. You are going to go in from your perspective of wanting to go in and save the world, but maybe that part of the world isn’t exactly what your perspective of save is.
So, home visitation is a passion of mine. I really believe that with health in this country we need to bring health out of hospitals and offices and back into homes and communities and empower. And that is what we are able to do in El Cercado. We came to the community and we asked, “What can we do for you? What do you need?” They needed help with going out into the Campo and helping women with pregnancy. They needed help in the elementary schools with screening and with getting the community hooked in with dental and with vision services. That was one of the first times as somebody who had never gone and done international work, it was really eye opening to me to see researchers and students, and nurses and nurse practitioners, going into the community and actually asking, “What can we do for you?” … not, “This is what we are going to do for you”. I think when we want to help populations and we want to really have meaningful help, we really have to take their perception into account.
SHARON: So with the medical mission trip, going back to that for a second. What did you find most surprising?
KRISTI: I remember walking through the village and seeing the kids playing with trash and then thinking about kids back here and when they are in the office and there’s a lot of parenting where kids act out or cry and tablets and technology are thrown into their lap to get them to be quiet. Even then, the instant gratification, technology toy piece, … it was really interesting to see… I mean kids are kids all around the world. I have been all around the world, kids are kids. They play and they laugh… they are kids. It was just very eye opening for me to see. I think about that a lot actually.
SHARON: Was it the fact that they were still able to play even though all they had was trash?
KRISTI: I thought it was hopeful. I think that we… especially in health care; we overlook the unmeasurables because we can’t measure them. I mean we need food, we need water, we need shelter, we have all these basic Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs things… the strengths that we have in our communities, whether we are in a little village of dirt roads or a big city, we still need the same things. I think there’s still so much hope if children can find pleasure and excitement in playing with trash and that’s their everyday. I think that that in itself, taking what you have in a situation and making the best of it and again kind of going with that wellness, not looking at everything you go into with that “I am going to come into a situation and help them and fix it” but … ask.. “What’s working well for you, what isn’t and how can I help you?” Actually embedding yourself within the needs of the community and the people that need you, rather than telling them. There is a lot of effort to divide people and convince us that we are so different, but we are not. And I know this because I have been with people and families with their child dying or very ill or I have had to diagnose a child with Leukemia in the emergency department and have that conversation. We all need the same things. We all share different life experiences but when it comes down to the bottom of it, we are all human beings together. That may sound a little innocently optimistic but when I was working on the trauma team at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles I would do all of the child abuse cases and we were going to make t-shirts that said, “Eternally Optimistic” because that’s me!
SHARON: Well that’s a wrap. Thank you for listening to Do Good, Be Good and thank you for everyone who has subscribed to this podcast. If you haven’t yet, subscribe in iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play to get the next episode when it is released next Wednesday. Next week we have an interview with the founders of Elevate Nepal. I am excited to have a chance to meet with them before they move to Nepal to start working there to rebuild infrastructure destroyed by the 2015 earthquake. For show notes on this episode visit dogoodbegoodshow.com. That is also where you can find the discount code for volunteerpro and more information about Do Good, Be Good. Thanks again to KRISTI Westphaln for jumping into the Cole Haan Pop Up Studio for our interview and a big shout out to Cole Haan and WNYC. The Werk It podcast festival was awesome. Thank you always to our host Sun Sounds of Arizona for the recording space. Music in this episode is the track Bathed in Fine Dust by Andy G Cohen released under a creative commons international license and discovered in the free music archive. Until next week, this is SHARON Tewksbury-Bloom signing off.