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Globetrotting nurse finds similarities in humanity around the world

Published: Sunday, Jan. 5 2014 12:03 a.m. MST

Kathleen Cadman, assistant nursing professor at Weber State University, talks Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013 in her office.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

OGDEN — Kathleen Cadman didn't plan on becoming a nurse, but traveling around the world made her one.

"Every place you go, you learn more about the world and you learn more about yourself and how you fit in it," she said.

The newly hired assistant nursing professor at Weber State University has visited 110 countries and seven continents, and while some trips are just for fun, 34-year-old Cadman tries to do a bit of good in every place her feet land.

Cadman, of Ogden, initially received bachelor's degrees in oil painting and photography, but after teaching sex education to college students in China about a decade ago — she thought she was going to teach English — she decided to put herself to work doing good in countries that perhaps don't have the proper resources or know-how to be healthy.

Traveling has opened her eyes to "pretty catastrophic health problems everywhere," Cadman said, adding she has visited places in the world where a woman who is bleeding from childbirth "is filled with dirt to stop the bleeding."

"They don't understand the microbiology of it all," Cadman said.

In rural Nepal, she said, babies have suffered recurrent respiratory infections, sometimes fatal, after being carried on their mothers' backs while their mothers leaned over the fire to cook food. Cadman said the babies were inhaling too much smoke; once the women were taught to safely stow their babies elsewhere while they cook, infant mortality rates decreased.

Similarly, sustainable health and education programs, including those that teach proper birthing techniques, basic first aid, and HIV and cholera prevention, among others, she said, can help communities thrive.

"It all comes down to community planning, everything from having clean water sources to where the latrines are placed in the community, the proper use of mosquito nets, having sustainable nutrition and deforestation patterns, it all contributes to the health of those communities," Cadman said.

She rarely performs clinical work in her travels, to avoid undermining what health care is already present in the various countries and regions of the world.

By helping to train local health care workers, especially women who tend to stay in their communities, Cadman said, the knowledge and skills are sustainable, even after she leaves.

"The communities that have health workers tend to thrive considerably more and have fewer infant deaths and disease than those that don't have health workers," she said, adding that some outcomes are more immediately recognized than others.

One particular outcome, for example, is that in communities where refractory light bulbs (requiring no electricity) are installed in homes, there has been a decrease in the number of cuts, scrapes, bruises and broken bones, as well as house fires, because there is light to see by and to move about without harm.

At Weber State University, Cadman is working with students and other faculty to put together an applicable health manual of sorts that can be used to more simply instruct various populations around the world on common health practices.

"The idea of constructing a book isn't to make a profit," she said. "The idea is to improve global health in general and to decrease the global burden of disease."

The idea for the book, as well as for her continuing travels and efforts to train indigenous health workers, Cadman said, is that "something must be done" to tackle the plentiful health disparities around the world.

She developed a love of exploration and travel at a young age, as her parents took her and a brother all over to learn about and experience the world.

To make her travel possible, Cadman lives a modest lifestyle. She lives in a tiny condominium close to campus and commutes by bicycle. She rarely eats out and saves what she doesn't spend on tuition or for donations to various non-governmental organizations on her expeditions.

Cadman has not married and doesn't have kids, which lends more of her "grown-up income" as a professor to her semi-nomadic lifestyle.

"My day-to-day life is pretty busy and focused on academia," she said. "Sometimes I like to disappear to places where I have no Internet or phone and relax in the group I'm with and then come home and dig my heels in again. While I'm in town, I work incredibly hard."

Cadman teaches research and medical ethics courses in the nursing program at Weber State University. She supervises a clinical group each semester at the neighboring hospital, consults part time and takes a few classes herself.

She has a short packing list and makes a quick decision when given the opportunity to go someplace new — or return to a place she's been before.

"There are two kinds of places. Those I've been to and those I haven't been to yet," Cadman jokes. Nepal, for its culture, and New Zealand, for its beauty, top the list of her favorite locales, and places where jobs or missions were inevitably canceled, including Egypt and Bolivia, for different reasons, remain high on her bucket list.

And, surprisingly, of the diverse places she has visited or lived, there is a common thread.

"I love the food. I love the scenery, but the thing I love the most about travel is all the people you get the opportunity to meet," Cadman said. She said that life is similar everywhere.

"It's just people trying to put food on the table for their kids, hold down a good job — the same core things everyone is living for don't change whether you're living in a mud hut, a yurt or a 15-bedroom mansion," she said. "It's all connected, and I like seeing how."

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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