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Student Pursues Dream Of Improving Women’s Health Care

May 7, 2003 -- While a third-year student, Kate Neuhausen helped a midwife in Ecuador bring babies into the world.

Neuhausen was surprised when Gladys Clemente, to whom she was apprenticed, said she could “catch” the babies. And she was amazed that several women in the South American village where she stayed for a month subsequently embraced her as kin, godmother to their children.

After she returned to U.Va. for her final year, Neuhausen worked with the local Spanish-speaking immigrant community as a health promoter, part of the U.Va. Nursing School’s Rural Health Outreach Project. She also helped create and teach peer-training programs in basic health care, domestic violence and HIV education. At U.Va., she organized a women’s health festival on Grounds in February, as well as the Women’s Center’s speaker series this year on the broader topic of women in the international arena.

Now Neuhausen, an Echols scholar, will receive a bachelor of science degree in her self-designed major, international women’s health. And she’s gained something more from five semesters of having various roles at the Women’s Center: “the confidence to become whom I dreamed of becoming.

“I want to be a family practitioner in immigrant-refugee health. Ecuador transformed how I look at the world, particularly the U.S. and its relations with Latin America,” she said. “There’s a high percentage of Spanish-speaking immigrants, many undocumented. This segment of the population often doesn’t get appropriate medical treatment. They’re invisible.”

Neuhausen’s semester in Ecuador was sponsored through the School of International Training, which specializes in hands-on, experiential programs in developing countries. She first completed an intensive language study session in the capital city of Quito. From there, she traveled to the small town of Libertador Bolivar on the coast, where she became part of a strong net of loving relationships, woven of the bonds between midwife and mothers, a bond that is being unwittingly jeopardized by some modern-minded physicians.

In traditional culture there, when a baby is being born, whoever cuts the umbilical cord is considered a member of the family, even if not otherwise related. Neuhausen said the doctors don’t seem to recognize this.

They are also encouraging women to go to a hospital to give birth, but Clemente is working hard to dispel their misconception of midwives’ care as unclean. She uses latex gloves and sterilized instruments; her practice is actually better equipped and cleaner than some hospitals, Neuhausen said. Another consideration is that the closest hospital to the town is about an hour away.

“I still love science, but I’ve learned other ways of looking at and experiencing the world,” she said. She’ll keep that perspective with her when she goes to medical school. But first, she will take a year off to travel, volunteer in other health programs and eventually return to Latin America. Neuhausen has applied to work in programs in Guatemala and in a different part of Ecuador. She also plans to visit Clemente and her families in Libertador Bolivar.

“I have to go back.”

Contact: Lee Graves, (434) 924-6857

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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