Nursing student's goal: Improve health in Guatemala

By Sally Wolff King | Emory Nursing | April 23, 2013

Mary Micikas

With few resources, Mary Micikas worked with volunteer teams to convert an abandoned Methodist church into a medical and dental clinic in rural Guatemala.

Mary Micikas
Aided by her nursing scholarships and training, Mary Micikas (far right) plans to return to Guatemala to work as a family nurse practitioner. Photo courtesy of Mary Micikas
Mary Micikas
Micikas worked alongside local volunteers and staff to establish and manage the health clinic and trained health care workers to serve as staff and volunteers.
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Emory nursing student Mary Micikas 13N 15MN, a Fuld Fellow, is leveraging her Tylenol Future of Care Scholarship to support her goal of becoming a family nurse practitioner at the clinic she founded in Guatemala.

In 2012, she was one of 10 U.S. health students to receive a $10,000 Tylenol scholarship.

After graduating from college, Micikas volunteered with the Organization for the Development of Indigenous Maya in rural Guatemala. The experience altered her views of social responsibility—and her plans for the future. Initially, she planned to stay a year but remained 3 1/2 years to establish a health clinic for the communities of San Juan la Laguna and San Pablo la Laguna.

With few resources, Micikas worked with volunteer teams to convert an abandoned Methodist church into a medical and dental clinic in the western highlands of rural Guatemala. She served variously as construction coordinator, fund-raiser, finance manager, volunteer coordinator, and community builder before taking on the role of clinic director. She worked alongside local volunteers and staff to establish and manage the health clinic and trained health care workers to serve as staff and volunteers. She organized and trained health promoters to complete a community-directed health needs assessment and oral history project. Eventually her team expanded their services by establishing auxiliary clinics in neighboring communities that now provide enhanced access to care.

The clinic opened in April 2009. "The first week, we had not a single patient, but people started showing up little by little for consults, and we started gaining trust in the community," says Micikas. "Now we see on average 20 patients a day in the four hours we are open and sometimes have to turn away others. We have more than 1,700 families registered at our clinic, which is pretty big in a village of 5,000 people. People travel from surrounding villages to visit our clinic. We now have our fully equipped dental clinic up and running and staffed with foreign volunteers and a local dentist."

Micikas realized that nursing skills would strengthen her clinic work. She learned of the Fuld Fellowship Program at the School of Nursing from a friend who worked at the Guatemalan health clinic. Funded by the Helene Fuld Health Trust, the program supports second-career BSN to MN students with an interest in vulnerable populations. Micikas received her undergraduate degree in May 2013 and entered the Emergency Nurse Practitioner Program in Fall 2013.

After completing her master’s degree, Micikas plans to return to her clinic in Guatemala to work as a family nurse practitioner, care coordinator, and trainer of local providers.

"My scholarships have provided an incredible opportunity," she says. "I could not have come to Emory without them. I formed friendships and relationships with people who have similar interests and experiences. That has provided an important support system."