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May 6, 2013

ULM nursing graduate Jessica Williamson splits time between Monroe and Haiti

In December 2009, Jessica Williamson graduated from the University of Louisiana at Monroe with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Now, she works in the Emergency Department at St. Francis Medical Center for two weeks out of every three months.

She spends the rest of her time working in the mountains of Thomassin, located just above the capital city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

"With the knowledge imparted through my time in nursing school and gained through working in the Emergency Department, I can provide quality care, compassion, and kindness to people," said Williamson. "I feel so blessed that my career is something that I enjoy."

Williamson spends most of her time in Haiti with trips back to Monroe only for time with work and family.

"My St. Francis manager has graciously allowed me to maintain an as needed position and schedules me to staff whenever my rotations come around for a visit back to Monroe," she said.

"While I am back in Monroe, I staff in the ER about 70 hours, work on keeping up my certifications like BLS, ACLS, and PALS, and really try to keep my skills up to par."

While in Haiti, Williamson said, "I have done nursing in clinics, churches, my own home, on my porch, and in the homes of others."

Considering the lack of accessible healthcare in Haiti, a great deal of the local community relies on Williamson for treatment.

"I have delivered babies for women who have no access to medical care, work as a resource for individuals seeking healthcare, and do basic first aid and treatment as I can with the medications and resources that are available here," said Williamson.

"People in our community come to my house all the time to have their blood pressure checked and for basic first aid."

Her first trip to Haiti was in December of 2008, when she accompanied a friend who held a teaching position in the Northwest portion of the country.

"Haiti had just experienced utter devastation from Hurricanes Hannah and Ike… The sickness, malnourishment, and poverty were exacerbated by natural disaster, and this was truly a wake up call for me."

The hardest part of Williamson's work in Haiti is the scarcity of medical resources.

"There are very few facilities with the ability to manage complex disease processes and treat major traumatic injuries with multiple organ involvement – the majority of the time these individuals do not survive."

Haiti has played a significant role in Williamson's growth and development.

She said, "Haiti and her people have helped me to learn and grow beyond my wildest expectations. These strong and tenacious people have shown me that things could always be worse, that life is a gift, and that if anything matters, then everything matters."

One particular Haitian has inspired Williamson more than any other.

Years ago, a widower brought his infant daughter to Williamson's workplace. He knew he could not take care of her, so Williamson volunteered to help while working in Haiti.

"On sequential visits," said Williamson, "I always made a special effort to check on the child, even after she was placed in an orphanage for adoption. When I moved to Haiti in March of 2012, the most natural thing to do was to bring her into my care, since she was still in the orphanage without a family."

Now, four-year-old Phoebe Kate will one day become Williamson's legal daughter.

"We still have quite the journey ahead of us," said Williamson, "and it may be a very long time before she is legally my daughter, but she is so worth fighting for!"

Williamson attributes most of her success to her time at ULM. She particularly remembers her time in the ULM SimLab during practicum seminars.

"We would be given scenarios with our classmates and we would be asked to provide care for the very life-like manikin who was controlled by our professors."

The SimLab on the second floor of Kitty DeGree Hall features two Laerdal SimMan high fidelity simulators with many capabilities, including vocal sounds, realistic anatomy, an IV arm for intravenous therapy, and a library of medicines and procedures that cause appropriate simulator reactions when administered.

The Maternal/Child SimLab also features an equally capable SimBaby and a Noelle Birthing Simulator, which actually delivers and allows simulation of labor and delivery scenarios.

"I feel like this was a class that challenged the knowledge that we were being given during our time in the nursing program," said Williamson, "and unlike real patients, we were not afraid to touch, act, and even make mistakes, which in turn allowed us to learn to never make that mistake on a living human being."

Williamson has always loved caring for people, and pursuing a career in nursing seemed like a natural fit from the start.

She said, "My aunt is a nurse as well, and through her advice, guidance, and experience, she helped confirm that this was the career path I should follow."

Her aunt Melissa Williamson Kadau graduated from ULM's nursing program in 1987.

As she continues to split her time between countries, Williamson insists that she has no preference between her two jobs.

"I love serving the people of Haiti through my skills as a nurse," she said, "but I would have no knowledge or skill at all had it not been for my time at St. Francis in the ER and my education at ULM."

For more information about Jessica's efforts to adopt Phoebe Kate, visit

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