In Case You Missed It: The Most Effective Way to Help in a Disaster

Episode 50 of The College Handoff, titled “The Most Effective Way to Help in a Disaster,” features Nicki Broby, a nursing expert in humanitarian aid and international disasters, and Sarah Jensen, the service project coordinator for the BYU Nurses Empowering Women (NEW) club.

Nicki has always felt a deep love for volunteering and being involved in humanitarian aid, especially abroad. When she went back to graduate school at BYU in 2015, she decided to focus her research efforts towards her passion. “When I decided to do my thesis, we were looking at how there’s kind of a dearth of information for anybody who says I want to start my own disaster response team–how do I even go about that? What makes that successful? There’s so much to it and it can be overwhelming. So there are principles of success that we found when working on this thesis.” In fact, there are three principles of success that Nicki highlights as essential to effective disaster response.

“The first principle of success is to assess the need. So a lot of people try to fit what they do into a disaster like we give out teddy bears, so we’re going to figure out a way to get these people teddy bears. And what they really need is medical help. So what those teddy bears do is they sit on the tarmac and get in the way of planes who are trying to land with medical supplies,” Nicki reveals. “And it’s sad because everybody who donates something to a cause is doing it for the right reasons, but there is a way to do it effectively, and that’s what we were looking at. So first you have to assess the need. You’re going to figure out the need better if you’re talking to people on the ground if your response starts locally. That’s a shift in humanitarian work that I think is great that has happened over the last few years and is continuing to happen. You need to start at a local level so you really know what they need rather than trying to fit what you do into that.”

“The second principle of effectively responding to something is you have to keep in mind cultural needs,” she says before giving an example. “It’s not culturally acceptable in some situations for a male OBGYN to take care of a female, and so there is a huge need for female OBs in countries that had a lot of Muslim women.”

The third principle focuses on the type of volunteers disaster response teams need. “There may be times where the best thing is to sit back and donate to somebody who is more qualified than you are to do something about it. And sometimes it’s going to be making a phone call and saying, hey, listen, I’m really qualified for this, or I see that you need this, and I can help. And so it may change. Lots of times, we don’t have to go further than our own neighborhood to be responding to something, right?  But when we want to, we just have to start somewhere. And trust me, when you go on your first humanitarian trip or disaster response, you’re gonna start forming an opinion really quick about what’s effective and what’s not, and what you want to be doing and what you don’t want to be doing. It’s important to kind of know yourself because that is the third principle to effectiveness: quality volunteers,” Nicki explains. “And honestly, many people just in the reality of a situation aren’t necessarily the best people to go somewhere and not be able to shower for a while or have running water and be in a place where there’s a lot of disease and a lot of smells and a lot of whatever it might be. Not everybody’s cut out for that, and then some people thrive on that. You also want to make sure that you’re going to be safe, that you’re not going to end up adding to the disaster because you become a casualty yourself. So it doesn’t matter what you do; there’s a place for you.”

There’s a place for all of our students to aid the world around them. One of the ways nursing students can get involved is by participating in the Nurses Empowering Women (NEW) club. “The club was created to try and help nurses in our program to be able to care for individuals that may not always receive the best care,” says Sarah Jensen, a member of NEW. “So specifically to care for women, to treat women, but other groups beyond that as well. Really, it’s to empower the nurses in our program to be able to adequately and comfortably care for anyone who walks in the door, and to be able to do so in the best way, to best treat them, to best care for them, to best help them come out of the hospital prepared and happy and healthy.”

One of the primary things NEW discusses during their meetings is the various issues women face in healthcare. “We have talked about global issues that affect women, like maternal health and maternal death rates in different countries because of complications due to pregnancy or delivery. We’ve talked about education for women in different parts of the world and how that’s affecting health care outcomes and health literacy and things like that, even in our own country. And I think with a lot of these issues, it is bigger than just the problems that they’re facing healthcare-wise if that makes sense,” Sarah explains. “Like the basics of the issue are sometimes women aren’t a part of studies being done to treat different illnesses or things like that. And so whatever treatments are being invented aren’t geared towards women as they are as much towards men. So little things like that end up having a big impact on the health care that women receive or like how they’re treated in hospitals. We’ve talked about before how sometimes complaints of pain are treated differently when women are giving them than when men are giving them, which can have a big impact on the health care that they receive if they’re not taken seriously.”

If you want to listen to Episode 50 of The College Handoff that features more insights into how to become a quality volunteer, pick a specialty within nursing, and get involved with NEW, go to or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Additionally, if you want to learn more about Nicki and her volunteer experiences, go to

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