Graduate student shares experience of serving Iraqi people in field hospital
The Iraqi people have a special place in Liberty University graduate student Emily Arneson’s heart.
For three weeks in January, Arneson, who is pursuing her Master of Public Health, worked for Samaritan’s Purse in an emergency field hospital in Northern Iraq. She has served with the organization for about six years.
“I had decided in December this was something I wanted to do,” Arneson said. “I was deployed right after Christmas.”
The field hospital is a combination of tents and semi-permanent buildings, Arneson said. It was equipped with more than 50 patient beds and two operating rooms. While there, she served as a ward nurse taking care of surgery patients and others recovering from injuries sustained as they escaped the conflict between Iraqi Security Forces and ISIS terrorists moving into western Mosul. The staff treats patients injured by gunfire, land mines, mortar rounds, car bombings, and improvised explosives.
“You see people with just terrible injuries,” Arneson said. “I will never forget the injuries, the pain, and the emotional toll on the people.”
Despite the pain and anguish Arneson saw around her, she said God still worked in amazing ways to touch the lives of the Iraqi people. The hospital has treated 680 patients and performed 260 major surgeries since early January.
“God gave me the strength each day and each moment,” she said. “What we saw was very difficult, but I felt the strength and power of God to cope and help the people.”
The 34-year-old has a background in nursing. Over the last several years, she has worked in cholera clinics in Haiti and an emergency field hospital in Ecuador.
Arneson said she first knew she wanted to be a nurse after she was diagnosed with a germ cell tumor at age 16.
“I loved my nurses,” she said. “I wanted to be able to be there for children going through the same thing I went through.”
When she decided to seek her master’s degree, she said she knew she wanted a Christian university and a program that would accommodate her travel schedule with Samaritan’s Purse. Many of her friends had graduated from Liberty and were impressed with the school. Arneson said she choose Liberty’s online program, and it turned out to be a perfect fit.
Directly after returning to the United States from Iraq, she left again, this time for Hanoi, Vietnam, to complete a five-month practicum as part of her degree program. Now she is settled into her new role in Vietnam, working on a variety of health projects through Samaritan’s Purse, including the Safe Motherhood Project, which combines training birth attendants and monitoring the nutrition status of children under 5 years old.
Dr. Richard Lane, director of Liberty’s Master of Public Health program, said Arneson is one of 93 students in the program who are serving in nine different practicum course sections for the spring semester in various organizations. Some of the organizations include Centra Health, American Red Cross, Horizon Behavioral Health, and West Chester University.
He said Samaritan’s Purse has been a good partner with Liberty’s program in providing these opportunities.
“Samaritan’s Purse, like Liberty, approaches global issues with a Christ-centered, biblical worldview so we are assured our students are given opportunities to practice their faith and their profession in a unified fashion,” Lane said.
He said Arneson is not the first of his students to work abroad before beginning their practicum work.
“We have had other students in South Sudanese and Syrian refugee camps, Liberia during the Ebola outbreak, and in the Mindanao region of Philippines in the midst of the insurgency issues or the Moro conflict,” Lane said. “I am always excited to learn of their stories and see how God uses our students to reach difficult populations with the Gospel through public health interventions.”
While in Iraq, Arneson said one of the biggest challenges was overcoming obstacles in a nontraditional hospital.
“We didn’t have the same resources we would have in America,” she said. “You had to think on your feet and be creative when situations would happen. But showing compassion and caring for people is still the same no matter where you are.”
But Arneson said she is already looking for an opportunity to go back to Iraq.
“It was a sweet blessing to get to know the people, to love and care for them, and to meet the medical needs they have,” she said. “I love being a nurse, and I feel God has called me to help people around the world.”