Volunteer experience enriches RU nursing student personally and professionally


Hannah Holladay, a senior nursing student from Radford University, shares a smile with one of the residents of the Asilo de la Vejez de Cartago, a Costa Rican nursing home at which Holladay volunteered this summer as a health care worker.

To push back the boundaries of her comfort zone and earn additional career experience, Hannah Holladay served as a health care volunteer in Costa Rica this summer.

The senior nursing student from Roanoke is now back at the Waldron College of Health and Human Services' School of Nursing at Radford University taking three classes and handling three clinicals. For almost three weeks, she and two other volunteers – a pre-med student from Indiana and a medical student from Spain - took over the wound care room in a countryside nursing home and freed up the facility's four nurses for more pressing duties.

"The skills I learned in nursing school were essential. Radford has taught me well...to take initiative and jump into situations with full confidence," said Holladay. "My training came in handy. My knowledge of patient care, turning and dressing changes was very helpful in getting the work done." 

Holladay was one of 11 Scholar-Citizen Highlander in Action award recipients for 2013. The award is granted to support RU students' pursuit of transformative learning experiences such as study abroad experiences, international internships, domestic internships and community-based learning or scholarship.

With the itch to do something different with her summer, Holladay sought out the range of opportunities open to her and signed up with International Volunteer Headquarters, a provider of volunteering programs in developing countries.


A colorful hallway connecting the wards at the Asilo de la Vejez de Cartago, a non-profit nursing home in Costa Rica, at which RU senior Hannah Holladay worked this summer as a health care volunteer.

"The experience will help me relate to people so much better now," she said.  "I have a new respect for old people, who are really young minds in old bodies. Seeing their smiles after helping them feel better was great immediate gratification."

At the Asilo de la Vejez de Cartago, a non-profit nursing home run by Catholic nuns,  Holladay was struck by the scarcity of the basic supplies she used to treat wounds, primarily the pressure wounds from a patient's being in one spot for too long.

Hannah Holladay

During her stint as a volunteer health care worker at a nursing home in Costa Rica this summer, Hannah Holladay, a senior nursing student from RU, attends to a patient while a fellow volunteer charts their activities.

"We squeezed the last drop out of every bottle and then cut the tops off to scrape out whatever we could use," she said.

She also participated in a dramatic trail side rescue of a hiker who had broken his leg in a fall while trying to navigate a tricky path to the falls above Montezuma Beach on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast. She assisted a local medic to splint the broken bone with sticks and strips of towel and then accompanied him as he was carried through the mountain jungle back to the nearby town.

"There was no helicopter or EMT team, just a local man with a backpack who volunteered to tend to these kind of injuries," she said. "The whole volunteer experience was exciting, humbling, challenging and it made me truly appreciate what I have and what I am capable of."

She flew into San Jose, Costa Rica's capital, by herself and was immediately immersed in the country's "very pleasant" culture by staying with a local family who housed and fed her during the stay. While there, she met and became "instant friends" with other volunteers from Australia, Austria, England, Spain, Lebanon and Belgium. Her wound room co-worker was an aspiring doctor to whom Holladay proudly taught the proper way to modestly and safely turn a patient. She also appreciated the respect she earned from the facility's busy and dedicated staff and the chance to see health care, and life, done differently.

"I spent a lot of time researching and thinking about what it would be like, but it was all way over what I could have imagined," she said.

Learn more about Radford University at www.radford.edu.

Sep 3, 2013
Don Bowman
(540) 831-7523