Taking a year off work to go to a tropical paradise sounds fanciful to most people, but assistant teaching professor Debbie Edmunds lived that dream when she and her husband departed BYU for the sandy shores of Fiji on a LDS mission. Not only did Edmunds get to apply her skills as a mission nurse specialist, but she also had the opportunity to guide BYU nursing students in an international clinical practicum.
“I just felt like the time was right,” Edmunds says when talking about her decision to leave on the mission, which lasted from June 2016-June 2017. Due to Edmunds’ skills as a nurse, the mission president in Fiji arranged for the couple to serve there, with her as the mission nurse and her husband as the mission financial secretary.
“I helped them take good care of themselves and to always have some basic supplies,” she says. Her work was cut out for her—the missionaries were spread across six islands and experienced various problems related to the tropical climate. There were also missionary mental health issues and anxiety problems that she had to address, a task for which she had been well prepared from teaching Type A nursing students.
“It was a great thing for me because I’ve been very focused on women’s health nursing, but now I’m with a majority of young elders,” she says. “It was nice to refresh my nursing skills, using them in a generalized way rather than for such a specific thing like maternity.”
Despite the constant workload, Edmunds always found something to enjoy during her mission, whether it was the constant presence of the ocean, the pleasant climate, or the warm friendliness of the Fijian people. She also found herself learning important lessons that she would bring back to BYU.
“I think it really reinforced my testimony of how the Lord loves all of His children and has a plan for all of His children,” Edmund says, “Each student here is on his or her own journey. Each missionary was on his or her own journey. Your job when you’re in a role of teaching, or in a role as we were as a senior couple, is to nurture, to support, to encourage, and to be the Lord’s hands.”
BYU was never far from Edmunds. In fact, BYU came to her in the form of a Public and Global Health Nursing course led by associate teaching professor Dr. Shelly Reed that was en route to Tonga.
During their five-day visit, Edmunds took the group to a nursing school, healthcare facilities, and local villages where they took blood pressure and glucose readings. They also visited cultural sites and stayed in the LDS temple patron housing.
“I feel that our time in Fiji complemented our experiences in Tonga, providing comparisons and contrasts that enhanced our knowledge of Pacific Islanders and their culture and health care practices,” Reed says. “By going to Fiji, we learned inter-culture variations for Pacific Islanders, something that we would have not learned visiting just one Islander nation.”
Back at BYU, Edmunds is both trying to adjust to a much drier climate and hoping that the contacts she made in Fiji may lay the groundwork for a Public and Global Health clinical practicum in that country.
“It would be nice for me to go back and be able to share those things with students because there is plenty to do in Fiji,” she says.