Building collaborations in California and Kenya
Laura Van Auker’s passion to serve others is at the heart of her 40-year career as a nurse practitioner. Her deep commitment to public health guides her life as an educator in Sacramento and a global ambassador in Kenya.
“Public health is really looking at ways to serve low-resource populations,” says Van Auker, an assistant clinical professor at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis. “Because I have a subspecialty in rural health, part of my skills working in low-resource environments has transferred into my interest in these global activities.”
In late 2018, Van Auker visited Kenya, representing UC Davis as a Global Affairs Faculty and Staff Ambassador. She presented at the University of Nairobi School of Nursing and reached out to other nursing schools in the region, building partnerships and mutually beneficial collaborations.
“In Kenya, or countries like Kenya, there is a long history of nurses carrying a lot of community health responsibility but struggling to advance nursing education into the areas with the greatest need,” she says.
Owing to her work with the UC Davis Health Interprofessional Teaching Scholars Program, Van Auker researches methods to improve quality patient outcomes using a team-based health care approach, one which includes nurses, pharmacists, physicians and physician assistants (P.A.) working together.
That spirit of collaboration led to an active-learning education approach using food as medicine. One School of Nursing class examined culturally focused diet counseling and resources for Afghan and Hmong clients with iron deficiency anemia. P.A. and family nurse practitioner students experienced a lunch buffet featuring high-iron dishes from those cultures to enhance multicultural dietary counseling skills, strengthen clinician cultural humility and address social determinants of health in local immigrant populations.
“You don’t have to leave the country to make an international impact. California has great diversity, so there is a lot to be said for local travel. It opens you to being really alert and alive, to taking in the world and seeing yourself as a global citizen. So, we emphasize to our students you can have global experience locally as well.”
When it comes to collaborations —whether near or far — Van Auker sees the possibilities that come from learning new perspectives, different resources and in forming new connections.
“I’m a global nurse, and that’s what I'm most proud of.”