“Using the Healer’s Art to Build the Lord’s Kingdom” is the fifty-fifth episode of The College Handoff. This episode features Mark Slight, a volunteer program administrator for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Verna Nelson (BS ’58), a BYU Nursing alumna who has served as a mission health advisor four times.
Missionary Medical is a vital part of the missionary efforts performed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that often goes unnoticed. “Missionary Medical is a team of unbelievable professionals who provide support to the missionaries and their wellbeing, their healthcare. Many missions have a mission health advisor or mission nurse, and they’re the ones that are the full-time or service missionaries providing the health care advice for the missionaries. Missionary Medical supports those mission leaders in providing the missionaries’ care. There’s a team of claim experts. There’s a team of full-time nurses who provide advice. These nurses are both physical health nurses as well as mental health nurses,” Mark explains. “My role is to provide administrative support to the many full-time and church service medical missionaries who are out there. Right now, we’re approaching almost eight hundred medical missionaries who volunteer their time and effort, and energy throughout the world to bless the lives of and support the missionaries out in the world.”
One of the current goals of Missionary Medical is to increase the number of participants. “It would be helpful because when a mission does not have a mission health advisor, the wife of the mission president is the de facto mission health advisor, and she has a lot on her plate already. They also don’t have the medical background needed, and bless their hearts–they do the best they can–but their role is to be a mission leader. So we’d love to lighten their loads and have a mission health advisor helping them lighten their load,” Mark says. In addition to mission health advisors, he mentions area medical advisors.“ These are retired doctors in the different area offices worldwide providing support. Many of them are also the fill-in mission health advisors because they might not have a mission health advisor in many missions within their area. So they are the go-to person for the mission’s medical advice. There’s about forty-five of them throughout the world.”
Verna is a veteran mission health advisor. While mission health advisors are often referred to as nurses, she describes that mission health advisors fill a more maternal role in the lives of missionaries. “They call it practicing mom medicine. So we’re just there to help the missionaries, and most of what I do is reassure and give advice. So a typical day is receiving calls from missionaries who have such a variety of little things that come up that they just need to talk to someone about,” she says. “A mission nurse is just there to support the mission president’s wife, who is responsible for the health and the safety of the missionaries. As the companion to the mission president, she takes that part of it. So I act under the umbrella of the mission president’s wife’s responsibility and assist her in just taking care of the missionaries and just helping the missionaries stay healthy, be healthy, and return to health if they’re sick.”
When asked about the most significant health concerns for missionaries, Verna answered with hesitation: “Nutrition. Specifically, nutritional counseling is probably one of the biggest needs I’ve enjoyed the most because I love doing nutritional counseling and helping missionaries eat healthily. After all, their physical and their mental health depends on what they eat.”
As a BYU College of Nursing graduate, Verna is a firm believer in the importance of the Healer’s art. “The Healer’s art means knowing that the greatest healer is our Savior. One of the reasons I chose to come to BYU was because I knew that it incorporated spiritual learning and all the other types of learning. And so the Healer’s art, to me, combines the spiritual nature of helping people to feel well.” She learned deeply about the Healer’s art towards the end of her career as a hospice nurse taking care of dying patients, which has fueled her love of healing those around her. “I learned the Healer’s art. I learned that becoming physically well again is not all healing. So I love that spiritual kind of nursing. And the reason I was able to do that was because when I was a student at BYU, we didn’t have the technology. We did hands-on nursing. Nurses at that time did back rubs. They listened to their patients. We did our best to help people heal without having to use pills and the kinds of medications they have now. There were just not those resources. And so, using what I learned as a student of fifty years before I became a hospice nurse just fit right in. And I’m ever grateful that I learned that kind of nursing at BYU.”
If you want to listen to the full episode that features more insights into the necessary credentials and qualifications to become a mission health advisor, the different time commitments for full-time and service medical missionaries, and Verna’s experience at BYU, go to https://thecollegehandoff.podbean.com/e/using-the-healer-s-art-to-build-the-lord-s-kingdom/ or anywhere you listen to podcasts.