Posted on Oct 28, 2019

Coverdell Fellow Brings Peace Corps Experience to Nursing

Coverdell Fellow Brings Peace Corps Experience to Nursing

Earlier this year Peace Corps volunteer Hannah Dexter left the heart of South America with a newfound purpose.

As her two-year commitment as a community health extension volunteer in Paraguay was drawing to a close, she wasn’t sure what lay ahead. But she knew it would involve nursing.

Dexter, who is now enrolled at the USF College of Nursing as a Coverdell Fellow, says her experience in Paraguay opened her eyes to how her background in public health, paired with an interest in the clinical side of health care, led her to the path she is on now.

“I really like the outreach aspect of it and kind of getting on the level of the people and trying to meet their needs in terms of health goals. That’s something I felt resonated with me and inspired me to go for nursing,” she said.

And while she’s back in Tampa — she earned her bachelor’s degree in public health from the University of Tampa and is set to graduate as a Bull nurse in August 2020 — she says the Peace Corps experience was life-changing and encourages others to volunteer as well.

“It just gives you an appreciation for the things you have, but also noticing life in another way, like what makes people happy, fulfilled and satisfied. It’s not all things and success. It is relationships and well-being. It’s nice to see what makes other people in other cultures happy.”

“I was definitely living a different life, but no better or worse, just a little bit more difficult,” she said.

Dexter recently spoke about her Peace Corps experiences on a panel featuring other Coverdell Fellows, including nursing student Logan Marx, held at the USF College of Public Health.

The Coverdell Fellows program at the College of Nursing is designed for returning Peace Corps volunteers seeking financial assistance in pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Originally from Maine, Dexter spent her undergraduate years in Tampa. As part of the public health program, she had the chance to travel to Costa Rica on a community health trip where she met a Peace Corps volunteer at one of the villages that they visited.

That chance meeting piqued her interest in applying to be a volunteer. Dexter said she wasn’t quite ready for the two-year commitment after graduation, but knew she wanted to continue doing something abroad.

So she took a job teaching English at a high school in Thailand for six months. There she found her public health background was never far away.

Dexter soon realized she was incorporating health-related words into her English lessons, and those English lessons were turning more into health education lessons.

That’s when she knew it was time to join the Peace Corps and follow her passion for teaching health education. Plus, Dexter’s mom is a former Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala.

“My mother always said it was the best thing she’s ever done, so that kind of stuck with me, and then it just became the right time in life to do something like that,” she said.

She applied to be a community health extension volunteer, choosing Paraguay as one of her three choices.

In Paraguay, Dexter lived in a rural farming community of only about 1,000 residents. She started teaching in the local health clinic, educating community members on non-communicable diseases, nutrition, diabetes, and heart disease. Soon she migrated to the schools and taught health and nutrition.

Aside from community health education, she also helped residents get local government funding to make cooking stoves.

Dexter says the Peace Corps experience showed her how forming a strong connection between health care providers and communities can have a huge impact on people’s lives.

“No one wants to suffer and be in pain, so helping to educate on how to stay healthy, while also providing the medication for people to live an optimal life, is inspiring,” she said.

Story by Elizabeth L. Brown, USF College of Nursing