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Nursing alum takes expertise international
Photos and Story by James Hill
Ryan Taggart, alum of the Portland Community College nursing program, is making a difference in Cambodia.
As a volunteer medical attendant for Northwest Medical Teams, Taggart is aiding countless villages by providing needed healthcare to orphanages in remote parts of the country. Cambodia, which is trying to recover from a bloody occupation of Pol Pot and the Communist Khmer Rouge, faces continuing disease epidemics.
His team sets up clinics in villages for five days to look at anyone who needs medical attention, typically at large orphanages. Usually, he’ll see more than 200 patients and even though he’s trained as a nurse, Taggart acts like a doctor by assessing problems, diagnosing ailments and prescribing medicine.
"I’ve been there for a year and I’ll continue to volunteer until I run out of money or I’m not useful anymore," he said. "I learned about the opportunity through Northwest Medical Teams with in a nursing practicum at OHSU. I called and because I didn’t have any experience they rejected me. I told them I would call every day for weeks and they said they wouldn’t care; it would still be ‘No.’ I kept calling and they eventually agreed to send me to Cambodia. I felt like I’m in a good place. There is a lot of need here."
The people amaze him. Despite living on an average of $20 a month and dealing with a horrible past that saw the genocide of two million people, he says Cambodians are a surprisingly happy people. And it’s been a great way to apply what he learned at PCC.
"My advisor at PCC taught me to be a compassionate nurse," Taggart said. "They have such great faculty and an incredible learning atmosphere. They had faith in me. With most teachers you think they are against you and it’s all about grades, but at PCC they encourage you to succeed."
Taggart, a native of Lake Oswego, didn’t always know he wanted to be a nurse. He started out enrolling in a local college’s fire fighting program, but decided that it wasn’t for him. It was one day on the Sylvania Campus that he literally bumped into an instructor who introduced him to the Nursing program.
He spent 1999 to 2002 in the program before getting his bachelor’s degree with honors from OHSU. The 29-year-old then spent the next few years working at Providence St. Vincent’s intensive care unit before traveling to Cambodia.
Now, Taggart doesn’t want to stop going abroad to help, admitting freely he is a "travel junkie." He would like to continue his international medical trips through Northwest Medical Teams by traveling to Pakistan and Uganda. He also wants to get another degree (anesthesiology) once he completes his time in Cambodia.
"I have a lot of respect for PCC," said Taggart. "The class sizes are not big so you can still have a relationship with a teacher and the students; you are not a number. For instance, if you haven’t been there for a while they’ll call you to see if you are okay. Any student thinking of getting a bachelor’s degree should start at PCC. They’ll save money and, I feel, get a better education."