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Retired nurse shares stories, lessons from global career

IN 2016, BRISTOL resident Linda Andrews ended a nearly three-decades-long, international career working in women’s healthcare. Now, Andrews is sharing stories and lessons from that career with her new memoir, “Building a Better World Together.” 
Independent photo/Marin Howell

BRISTOL — By the time she’d finished second grade in Middlebury, Linda Andrews had already decided the career she’d dedicate more than four decades of her life to. 

“I was walking in a Halloween parade, and I was a nurse. I decided I was going to be a missionary nurse in India,” the 76-year-old Bristol resident recalled. 

Though she didn’t end up becoming a missionary, that childhood dream ultimately led Andrews to become a nurse practitioner, spending nearly 30 years working in women’s health care in countries throughout Africa and Asia. 

Andrews is now looking to share stories and lessons she learned during her time abroad through her memoir, “Building a Better World Together: A Career in Women’s Health.” 

The now-retired healthcare worker published her book last month and hopes it helps those interested in pursuing a career similar to her own. 

“I really want people to read this book who are interested in international health, because I felt I learned lessons that led to sustainable programs,” Andrews said. 

GAINING EXPERIENCE 

The book’s chapters reflect the chapters of Andrews’s international career, each dedicated to her time working in a different country. The chapters are further divided into sections detailing how Andrews found that assignment, her work experience, lessons learned about that country’s culture and other stories from her time stationed in each country. 

The memoir’s introduction tells the story of Andrews’s life and work prior to starting her international career, including her journey to becoming a nurse practitioner. She describes her childhood dream to become a nurse as being shaped by the careers and experiences of her family members. 

During her time growing up in Middlebury, Andrews’s father worked as a family physician at Porter Hospital. Her grandfather and great-grandfather had also worked in the medical field, with her great-grandfather serving as the fifth medical superintendent of the former Mary Fletcher Hospital in Burlington.  

On the other side of her family tree, Andrews’s maternal grandparents spent more than four decades living and working in Rawalpindi, India, where her mother was raised. 

 “I had the international from mom and the health part from my family,” Andrews explained. 

With both sides of her family inspiring her, Andrews set her sights on working in international healthcare. It was a long road to getting a position overseas, but one she was committed to. 

“Since I decided to be a nurse and work overseas in second grade, all my decisions were based on that,” she said. “I was really lucky, I already knew what direction I wanted to go.” 

LINDA ANDREWS HAS her face washed with water in celebration of Songkran, a water festival marking the beginning of the traditional Thai New Year. In her new memoir, Andrews shares the importance of embracing other countries’ cultural customs while working abroad. 
Photo courtesy of Linda Andrews

Andrews got her nursing degree from the University of Vermont in 1969. She spent the next five years working as a nurse in Boston and Washington and received a Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner certificate in 1974. Ten years later, she received her Master’s in Public Health from the University of California, Los Angeles, and set her sights on her next goal — finding a long-term assignment overseas. 

She completed shorter-term projects in India and Nigeria and finally, found and was offered a two-year population service internship with the University of Michigan to work in Thailand with the Family Health Division of the Ministry of Health. 

“That was a really nice way to start your career, when the Ministry of Health wants you,” Andrews said.  

WORK OVERSEAS 

Upon beginning her internship in Thailand, Andrews was surprised to discover she’d be focused on improving the country’s well-child clinics rather than working in the family planning program. 

Andrews said the experience was part of an important lesson she learned during her time abroad — to enter each country with an open mind. 

“You don’t come in saying, ‘Oh, I know everything and I’m here to help you.’ You find out what they want, what their needs are,” she said. 

Andrews learned that while Thailand had a well-established family planning program, the country’s well-child clinics lacked health education for mothers, physical examinations, advice for the child’s physical and mental development. 

To help improve these clinics, Andrews consulted with Thai pediatricians and wrote a proposal to the World Health Organization (WHO) requesting support to hold a conference with pediatricians and government officials. 

The WHO agreed, and following the conference, a medical advisory committee was formed to establish standards for the well-child care services. Andrews also helped develop a pilot program that trained for auxiliary midwives. 

Andrews said listening to, and collaborating with, her Thai colleagues was a key part of helping implement sustainable programming in the country’s well-child clinics. 

“I listened and learned from my colleagues, I utilized the national experts, I was a team member,” Andrews said. “You have to become part of the team. It’s critical to have good relationships with people.”  

LEARNING THE CULTURE 

Outside of the office, Andrews leaned on her colleagues to learn more about the culture of the country she was working in. 

She said understanding the culture was a key part of forming strong relationships with colleagues during her assignments. 

LINDA ANDREWS SMILES with a baby at a well-child clinic during her time working in Thailand. Andrews’s new memoir, “Building a Better World Together,” details her work and life experiences in Thailand and the other 11 countries in which she worked for nearly three decades as a nurse practitioner. 
Photo courtesy of Linda Andrews

“You’ve got to study the culture and you’ve got to understand the culture. I didn’t know anything about the culture, so I had to learn a lot about it,” Andrews said. 

She learned that in Thai culture, for example, it’s frowned upon to touch someone’s head or point your feet at anyone. 

Andrews said her coworkers helped her navigate the cultural customs of Thailand and the other countries she worked in.   

“My colleagues, they directed me. You just have to have good people, because they’re so much cultural stuff that you have to learn,” Andrews said. 

Her experiences in Thailand and Somalia are but some of the many stories Andrews shares in her memoir. 

After completing her internship in Thailand, Andrews found it easier to find positions working in other countries. She spent the next nearly three decades traveling to and completing assignments in 12 different countries. 

From working to improving the quality and access to family planning services in Bangladesh to encountering hippos while water skiing in Malawi, Andrews’s memoir details the memories, friendships and contributions she made during her assignments in those 12 countries. 

“I loved each country, I can’t even really tell you my favorite country,” Andrews said. “I really loved all my jobs and all my positions and all the people I met.”

‘A BIG MILESTONE’

Andrews put her international career to rest in 2016. She returned to the United States at 70-years-old, after completing a final assignment in Tanzania, where she helped develop a national program for cervical cancer screening. 

Months after entering retirement, Andrews received her own diagnosis — stage 4B uterine cancer.  She was given a 17% chance of living longer than five years. 

Andrews began receiving counseling at the University of Vermont Medical Center, working with Dr. Shira Louria to help process her diagnosis and the end of an international career she loved. It was Louria, along with a handful of Andrews’s friends, that encouraged her to document her career in a memoir. 

Andrews’s long-time friend Lorrie Byron helped her compile the book during chemotherapy treatments. 

BRISTOL RESIDENT LINDA Andrews’s new memoir, “Building a Better World Together,” details the work and life experiences from the retired nurse practitioner’s nearly three-decades-long, international career working in women’s healthcare.

“I’m sitting there at UVM getting chemo in my arm and (Lorrie) sat there with a computer, ‘Tell me about Uganda, tell me about this or that,’” Andrews said. 

Andrews spent the next several years working on the book, eventually collaborating with an editor prior to having the memoir published. 

“Building a Better World Together” was published by Bristol Press LLC earlier this year, six years after Andrews received the diagnosis that got the ball rolling. 

“It feels like a big milestone,” she said. 

The memoir began as a way for Andrews to process the loss of her career and a bleak diagnosis, and now, she’s hopeful the book will be able to help readers. 

She wants the lessons she’s learned to inform those interested in pursuing a career in international healthcare and anyone else looking to spend time in another country. 

“Anybody who’s traveling to these kinds of countries where I went, it’s really important to know the culture and respect the culture,” Andrews said. 

Sales of the book will further support the next generation of healthcare workers, with proceeds going to the Jean Andrews Nursing Scholarship Fund, a scholarship established by the Porter Hospital Auxiliary in 1970 to honor Andrews’s mother. 

“I’m happy about that,” Andrews said. “I don’t know how much it will be, but it just feels right to me.” 

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