By Matt Hawkins

Nursing major Lauren Bilgri ’17 challenged herself with new experiences in Peoria and abroad as a student. Those adventures developed her patient care abilities as she prepares for a career in nursing.

The Naperville, Illinois, native stepped outside her comfort zone with a Global Scholars Program trip to Rome and a summer 2016 volunteer trip to South Africa. Both experiences challenged her worldview and equipped her to handle new situations.

“It’s gratifying to look back at those trips and know I made them happen,” Bilgri said. “Even though I sometimes doubt myself, I know I’m capable of being a good nurse.”

A May study abroad experience with classmates in Rome taught Bilgri the value of examining cultures while on new turf. She leaned on that lesson a year later as she ventured to Cape Town, South Africa to work in a childcare facility.

Cultures collided in Cape Town, where Bilgri worked with an international team of volunteers as well as the daycare staff and children. Despite cultural differences, she noted the common language of children spoken worldwide: Hugs and smiles.

“Those kids were genuinely loving,” Bilgri said. “They know we wouldn’t be there long, so they swarmed us and wanted to get to know us as fast as they could.”

The month also exposed the volunteers to the effects of poverty and social unrest as daycare children came from a variety of backgrounds. Though some children came from stable families with relative wealth, many were orphans or came from families impoverished because of gang violence, disease and other systematic social ills.

Working in that setting developed empathy — a valuable emotional asset for nurses.

“I came back more receptive and understanding of what people are going through,” Bilgri said. “I’ve seen how things out of our control can put people in unfortunate situations. It’s my job to do whatever I can to help them improve their lives if they want a helping hand.”

Cape Town’s children strengthened Bilgri’s passion for pediatric medicine — a passion she discovered during a junior year clinical at Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria. She followed the first CHI clinical with a second optional experience to enhance her knowledge of hospitals.

“That was the first clinical I was really excited to go to each day,” Bilgri said. “I felt comfortable interacting with children, their parents and staff as I learned diseases and conditions that affected children on the floor.”

Her journey will continue after graduation to a job at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital.