Peace Corps calls nursing grad to Asia

Graduating nurse Megan (pronounced Mee-gan) Forney doesn't have to look for a job as a nurse, or deal with the irritations of doing doctors' bidding in a hospital setting. Instead, she has chosen a path more independent, further removed from the technical aspects of nursing.

She's going into the Peace Corps.

And she's a little bit scared, but a lot excited.

Photograph by Candace diCarlo

Forney is going to "somewhere in Asia." She doesn't know where yet, whether it will be on some Pacific island or inland. But she expects a rural world with mountainous terrain and little public transportation, a world where the nearest Peace Corps volunteer could be a day's walk away, a world far from the city existence she has lived since arriving at Penn's School of Nursing.

Forney, from a small town in Delaware, is going somewhere where she may be the only local source of medical care, and perhaps the only Westerner. And she can't wait to meet the challenge.

"From what the Peace Corps tells me, people ask for volunteers and really, really want you to come," she said. "My recruiter said she never ate in her own house."

So vast cultural differences notwithstanding, Forney expects she won't be offending too many people with her Western ways. Living in a small village will give her the oppoortunity to get to know her patients well and take a holistic approach. "I will be with them, talk to them, talk to their families, and know how that contributes to their health," she said.

Responding to cultural differences was a part of most of her nursing classes, Forney said. "You have to really be able to understand the culture to be able to work with someone in it. If I'm immersed in it, hopefully, I won't have too much trouble."

Forney has been taught to hear what patients have to say. "Talking is my strong point and my favorite thing. We learned a lot of psycho-social skills in nursing school." Lectures focused not on technical skills but on the process of a disease or condition and how the nurse would work with the patients, help them to go home and not have the same thing happen to them again, or help them cope with conditions at home.

The decision to join the Peace Corps was partially inspired by her cousin, who went to Botswana and loved it so much she stayed for five years.

Then there was the poor job market here, and the chance to travel for two years.

And then there's grad school. "It might help me get in. I might want to go to midwifery school."

Forney expects that most of her job will focus on women's health, which is where both her experience and her interest lie.

She worked as a nursing assistant at HUP on the gynecologic oncology floor, full-time in the summer, part-time during the school year.

"I had more time to hang out in my patients' rooms and talk to them about what's going on than when I was a nursing student with five patients."

When Forney first came to Penn,she thought she would take pre-med nursing. "But when I realized the differences between nurses and doctors, I chose nursing. It's more of a caring profession."

She was looking forward to doing some of that caring -- even perhaps delivering babies -- in the Far East. "I've watched one delivery. I'm excited. I think I can handle it."

Originally published on May 28, 1998