Before going to Belize with West Coast University’s Global Public Health program in 2015, the furthest Amber LoPatriello had been from home was Kansas.
Less than three years later, LoPatriello was presented with WCU Alumni’s distinguished international service award for her travels as a nurse.
LoPatriello, who works in Victor Valley Global Medical Center’s emergency department and for Loma Linda University Medical Center’s surgical trauma team, most recently returned from a two-week medical mission to Ghana with “Show Me Your Stethoscope” and Healthy Villages Inc.
“Before I left for Belize I was scared to death to leave the country, but when I did it was the most amazing experience,” she said. “I definitely got bit by the travel bug, so I'll be going tons of places now.”
Tell us about your medical mission to Ghana
The trip to Ghana was very humbling. A lot of people, they always are asking me, 'Oh, how was it? Did you love it? How did it compare to your trip to Belize?' There was no comparison whatsoever. It was definitely a very humbling trip. It wasn't a vacation. Working out there, we still had to sleep on the floor. We had to shower in water that came in a bucket, that you couldn't even see the bottom of the bucket because it was so dirty. We ate in the villages with these people. We kind of took in how they lived and tried to acclimate as much as we could, but you can't imagine it unless you're in it. I mean pictures, they kind of do it justice, but it's one of those things where you have to live it to understand it.
Would you have gone to Ghana if you didn’t travel while at WCU?
Belize just sparked this joy that is just completely irreplaceable. You treat these underprivileged people, and you don't even offer them much, but the smile on their face, the gratitude that they have towards you, is something that can never be replaced. Here in America, people are so very privileged. They don't see what it's like to have nothing and then even, just to be supplied a toothbrush or something that we take for granted... they don't get that. In these underprivileged areas, their face lights up, they run around giggling and smiling, showing everybody their cool new toothbrush, or sticker or lollipop they just got. It's definitely something that warms your heart and makes you realize, ‘OK, there is still good in the world. There are those people that appreciate what you do for them.’
Are you enjoying being part of the WCU Alumni Network?
It's pretty cool to see the people that I've gone to school with and where they are in their lives and in their careers, where the people that were behind me in school are just graduating or they're nurses too. Before, they were coming to me, asking questions about classes or what to expect or ‘How do I prepare for this?’ and now they're nurses on their own. I think it's awesome to see all of the stepping stones that everybody here in the alumni network is now doing and a part of.
What field of nursing are you drawn to?
Trauma medicine is so exciting. It's just a rush. I've worked in the ER since I graduated so, as difficult as it is to deal with some of those people that come in and the population that we serve, when you get that stabbing or that gunshot wound, your mind is racing a million miles an hour. What can I do to save their life or how do I just make sure they don't die? It is the best job, never being bored, always something new, so definitely not routine.
Why did you want to become a nurse?
It's just the simple answer of I want to change the world. I feel like just being able to put a smile on somebody's face, like they say: Laughter is the best medicine. Being able to do something like that. I get to do it every day and I get to go home after each shift, knowing that I made a difference.
What do you want people to know about WCU?
West Coast gave me tons of opportunities. It gave me the opportunity to work while I was in school with their student-worker program. They gave me the opportunity to go to Belize for pretty much free after being selected for the Global Public Health program. I obviously got a great degree. I got a great education. The clinical groups and the networking that I experienced while in all of the hospitals. I still keep in contact with my preceptors and some of the nurses that I worked with, and that alone opens up doors for you when you graduate. And now that I've graduated, I have two great jobs and I get to make a difference every day — and that alone is worth all of the blood, sweat and tears we put into getting our degree.