Thrive by IU Health

April 10, 2024

To Jamaica with love

IU Health Bedford Hospital

To Jamaica with love

Norda Ratcliff's decades of caring for others in the United States and abroad started in 1979 in the Emergency department at the legacy hospital in Bloomington.

"We shared life and death and so much in between," says the adult nurse practitioner. "I wanted to fix everyone and everything, and I still do."

Then came the burnout, which led to her discovering Cardiac Rehabilitation.

"I found myself coming home from work with sore face muscles," she says. "It was from laughing and smiling so much. I'd never experienced a job like this before."

Reinvigorated, the nurse returned to school for her Master of Science in Nursing degree. That's when she found a little clinic in Jamaica where she could get much-needed clinical hours while helping those in need. On her first day, people lined up down the rural country road, with one young man carrying his elderly mother on his back for seven miles to get there.

The clinic was a small building with no electricity, water or working toilets, but the team was an organized group that helped many in need. And through these experiences, Ratcliff fell in love with the Jamaican people.

She worked at the clinic three times during her schooling and returned as a volunteer after graduation.

"I wanted my friends and others to experience the vast contrast in medical care that made such an impression on me, as well as the culture and professional staff I had grown to love and care about," says the nurse. "My dream became MISSION JAMAICA."

These medical missions included nurses and volunteers giving lipid checks, glucose, reading glasses, condoms, medications and education such as CPR training. During the missions, they visited a boys' orphanage annually to donate essentials such as medical supplies, food, clothing, games and hygiene products. They also educated them on first aid, CPR/choking, splinting, and counseling.

"I still struggle with reverse culture shock," says Ratcliff as she thinks of the differences between her experiences in Jamaica and the United States. "It is a struggle to return and function in a system where we have everything we need and desire to care for our patients knowing many others don’t have basic healthcare opportunities."

That's why she tries to decrease supplies waste and expenses as much as she can when caring for patients back in the States. And while she has decided to slow down a bit as a PRN with IU Health Occupational Services in Bedford, she's not quite ready to retire.

"I don't want to work every day, but I’m not ready to give up a career that I worked so hard for and has blessed me in so many ways," she says, explaining how she doesn’t want to miss anything with her grandchildren.

She's also not ready to stop contributing to the country that has meant so much to her.

"The orphanage recently moved since the original building burned down, and due to COVID-19, I haven't been able to visit the new facility. But maybe this year I will."