Who, What, Why: Nursing student and Peace Corps alum Eva Farrell

Serving in the Peace Corps as a math and science teacher in Kenya from 2012 to 2014 inspired MSN student Eva Farrell to go into nursing.

Eva Farrell.
“The Peace Corps really became the foundation for my approach in health care, in making sure it’s collaborative, patient-centered, and culturally competent,” says Eva Farrell, a master's student in the School of Nursing.
    • Who

      Eva Farrell landed in the Master of Science in Nursing program at Penn last summer, after getting a bachelor’s degree in biology, serving in the Peace Corps in Kenya from 2012 to 2014, going back to school for nursing, and working in hospital settings.

      Farrell says she didn’t join the Peace Corps with any career trajectory in mind, but she never would have entered the medical field without that experience. It inspired her passion in nursing. “The Peace Corps really became the foundation for my approach in health care, in making sure it’s collaborative, patient-centered, and culturally competent,” Farrell says.

      She was pulled early from the Peace Corps due to security concerns and did not have a plan upon returning, but she quickly decided on nursing. “I wanted to be able to actually show up to a location with a skill and then also be able to provide education,” Farrell says. Both the Peace Corps and nursing led to her being part of something greater—part of a community—but “also part of people’s lives more intimately.”

      Farrell got her certified nursing assistant license and worked in an operating room as a CNA while getting her bachelor’s degree in nursing. She worked as a registered nurse in a secure care unit for incarcerated patients in Virginia and at a trauma unit in Oregon before coming to Penn last year with a desire to shift from the hospital setting to primary and preventive care.

    • What

      Farrell recalls that when she was in middle school, her mother made an off-hand remark about the military and Peace Corps as options for her future, rather than staying on a defined college-to-career track. Farrell didn’t know what the Peace Corps was, so she looked it up and saw ads from the “Life is calling. How far will you go?” campaign.

      She kept it in the back of her mind when she went to Virginia Tech, where she met returned volunteers and spoke with a recruiter. In October 2012, a few months after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biology, she joined the Peace Corps and was assigned to be a secondary math and science teacher in Kenya.

      Farrell stayed with a host family while learning some basic Swahili and receiving cultural training. Her first placement was in Turkana, a remote area in northwestern Kenya only accessible by truck on weekends, at an all-girls boarding school where students were expected to pursue college after graduation. Following security concerns in that region, she was moved to eastern Kenya after her first year. There she taught at a co-ed day school that was smaller and more local.

    • Why

      Farrell says teaching life skills was her favorite class, and she particularly enjoyed teaching students about public health and sexual health. Even outside of the classroom, she says, public health was wrapped around everything Peace Corps volunteers did. Kenya wanted volunteers to push education on malaria and HIV/AIDS.

      In the eastern town of Machakos, she saw people lined up in the street waiting for medical care from a physician passing through. She later had a similar experience volunteering for a Remote Area Medical clinic in Wise County, Virginia where people waited overnight in their cars to receive free health care in the morning, including vision and dental services.

      “I came into the Peace Corps really wanting to change the world and make things better,” Farrell says, “and my thought process coming out of the Peace Corps was that people can’t make improvements or changes that they want—whether that’s environmental, behavioral, economic, what have you—if they don’t have personal health and if their family doesn’t have health.”

Eva Farrell takes selfie with kids in Kenya.
Master of Science in Nursing student Eva Farrell taught math and science in Kenya during her time in the Peace Corps. (Image: Eva Farrell)