Nursing Student Creates Disaster Preparedness Resource for Peers

Joseph Valenzuela, a nursing student, has created a digital resource to help nursing students with disaster preparedness and recovery efforts.

Joseph Valenzuela, a nursing student, has created a digital resource to help nursing students with disaster preparedness and recovery efforts.

They were the longest two weeks of Joseph Valenzuela’s life.

In 2013, Valenzuela’s father, Jose Valenzuela Jr., traveled to his native Philippines on a business trip, but was stranded there during Typhoon Haiyan, the deadliest typhoon to hit the island in modern history.

“We lost contact with him for about two weeks,” says Joseph Valenzuela, a senior nursing student at Rutgers University–Camden. “We didn’t know where he was. It was frightening.”

The pacific storm claimed thousands of lives and left many others injured or homeless, but miraculously, Valenzuela’s father was safe and made it back to his family in Cherry Hill.

“He’s a strong man,” Valenzuela says of his father. “I somehow knew he was okay, but when you hear the numbers — that it was one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded, and the number of people who didn’t survive — that’s terrifying. It’s one thing to see it on TV, but when you’re actually there as he was, it’s different. I think it proved to all of us the value of life.”

Last December, two years after the storm, Joseph Valenzuela returned with his father to the Philippines, where many of his family members reside. There, he saw a country still dealing with the effects of Typhoon Haiyan, and Valenzuela wanted to do something to help.

The Rutgers–Camden student, who graduated from Cherry Hill High School East, was tasked with coming up with a service project for a community health class he was taking at the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden. For Valenzuela, the idea was simple: take one of the most harrowing moments of his life and turn it into something positive.

“I thought about the role of a nurse and how it isn’t just limited to the local community,” Valenzuela says. “We are Rutgers, after all — local roots and global reach. It’s a nurses’ job to give back to the global community, too. I thought about how no one in the Philippines was prepared for that typhoon, and the difficulty in preparing for and carrying out recovery efforts.”

For his class, Valenzuela created a digital resource to help nursing students with disaster preparedness and recovery efforts. The tool draws upon information from the World Health Organization, the United Nations, the Red Cross, and other global organizations.

A photo of the Port of Boracay in the Philippines, taken by Valenzuela.

A photo of the Port of Boracay in the Philippines, taken by Valenzuela.

“Whether it be how to prepare a backpack full of supplies, or how to care for people in the aftermath, I wanted to create something to help nursing students be in position to take on a relief role in a disaster,” Valenzuela says. “Nurses have the skills needed in that kind of situation. They can provide basic care and they can be leaders when a crisis happens.”

Valenzuela is working to share his resource with undergraduate nursing students in the Philippines and even wants high school students there to utilize it. He hopes it becomes a valuable tool for the next generation of nurses.

“Every nurse should try and make a global impact,” he says. “Global healthcare is so important now, and it’s even more important to do what you can to give back to the global community.”

Valenzuela, who will graduate this month, wants to work in a hospital or clinic after commencement.

“My time at Rutgers has been one of the most interesting, challenging, and joyful parts of my life,” Valenzuela says. “Being a nurse isn’t only for how long your shift lasts, it’s for your entire life. Everywhere I go, I see the world with the influence that the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden has given me. It has made me more empathetic and more understanding of healthcare and how it affects people in their day to day lives.”

Valenzuela says he ultimately wants to go on a medical mission in another country, but hasn’t yet ruled out plans to continue his education by earning an advanced degree.

“Every day I strive to make a difference in the lives of the people around me,” he says. “I used to be timid and afraid to become a person’s advocate. Now I am not afraid to rush to a person’s aid if they are in need of assistance.”

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