OGDEN, Utah – A laminated world map on the wall of Kathleen Cadman’s office depicts all the countries she has lived in or visited. In less than 34 years, Cadman has visited 108 countries and seven continents.
“Every place you go, you learn more about the world and you learn more about yourself and how you fit in,” said Cadman. “It’s like I’m trying to figure out this giant, complex Rubik’s Cube, and make it all make sense.”
Growing up in an Army family – her dad was a pilot in Vietnam – Cadman moved from Indiana to Texas to Germany, then back to Indiana and eventually North Carolina. She attended college in Iowa and lived for a while in Missouri.
After graduating with double fine arts bachelor’s degrees in oil painting and photography, Cadman spent two years in Lanzhou, China (2003-2005), teaching sex education and sexually transmitted disease prevention to university students. She credits that experience with starting her “path toward nursing.”During this time, Cadman traveled to Australia, where she trained nurses on the curriculum she was teaching in China. The Australian nurses encouraged her to pursue a new career path. Inspired by the experience, Cadman returned to the United States for more education.
Her parents had moved to Utah, which led Cadman to pursue her nursing degrees at Weber State. Even as a nursing student, Cadman found time to spend three months in Kathmandu, Nepal, training health workers. While there, she witnessed an exorcism performed on an infant with severe mental disabilities. The experience informed Cadman’s approach to working with rural health providers internationally.
“No part of me was going to tell them that exorcism wouldn’t help. If you go in to any community, especially the really rural communities I’ve lived in and tell them that what they think is wrong and what you know is right, you won’t get anywhere,” said Cadman. “It doesn’t matter how much evidence-based research you have; they have thousands of years of experience. So we integrate the culture’s traditional beliefs in with modern health care.”
After becoming a licensed practical nurse in 2008 and a registered nurse in 2009, she again traveled the globe. Cadman lived in Jocotenango, Guatemala, and Uthamapalayam, India, where she trained indigenous rural health workers and taught community health education. Cadman strives to introduce sustainable health and education practices to rural communities around the globe.
“If I show up in a clinic as an outsider from a developed nation, which is often perceived as being more knowledgeable, it can undermine what the local population is doing. Any difference in approach or opinion can be misconstrued in a way that may, in turn, decrease a community’s trust or respect for the knowledge and ability of their local practitioners,” Cadman said. By training local health care workers, especially women, the knowledge and skills are sustainable, even after Cadman leaves.
“If we train women, they will stay in that local community and provide health care,” Cadman said. Male health workers are more likely to take the skills they learn and move to larger cities, sending money home to family back in the rural setting.
Cadman’s travels have illuminated different approaches to health care.
“The treatment of people and society differs by culture. We here in America are a very individualistic society –
every single life is worth fighting for,” Cadman said. In contrast, other cultures will evaluate care decisions based on “what’s best for the family unit, the community as a whole.”
Her adventures have also meant being a patient in other countries, including having an X-ray in Australia and wrist surgery in China.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say that in universal health care systems, the quality of care isn’t as great or that there are really long delays. That wasn’t my personal experience,” Cadman said. “Regardless of a person’s income or job, if you need medical help, you can go.” Ironically, Cadman actually lacked health insurance while working as a health practitioner in Utah.
Overseas, Cadman experienced different forms of Eastern medicine, including acupuncture in China and Ayurvedic medicine and treatments in India. She recalled being given something that looked like a dried almond – probably a small chunk of slippery elm bark – that morphed into something resembling a jellyfish when placed in water. Despite tasting awful, Cadman said the medicine immediately cured a sore throat and laryngitis that had plagued her for weeks.
“I have nothing against Western or Eastern medicine – both have a lot to offer,” said Cadman. “I think it’s important not to have to pick or choose one or the other. It should be OK to integrate both.”
She hopes to bring that global perspective on health care to her Weber State nursing students. Eventually she would like to assemble a team of undergraduates to research global health practices and lead them on study abroad opportunities to remote areas of the world.
Cadman would also like to explore potential applications for telemedicine, perhaps someday using technology to train international health providers without them ever leaving their home countries.
Cadman is one of 10 new faculty hires who started this fall in WSU’s School of Nursing.
“This is the best job I never knew I wanted. Weber’s fantastic. The nursing program has been nothing but supportive. My students have been great,” Cadman said. “I think life takes you where you’re supposed to be. Where you think you want to go and where you need to be are not always the same thing.”
Having a career she loves at her alma mater doesn’t mean she’s ready to settle down. Cadman is already planning a December trip to Fiji and New Caledonia. In the spring, she plans to continue her research on the sustainability of indigenous health worker training programs for rural regions of developing nations, when she travels to Ghana with faculty and students from WSU’s Department of Respiratory Therapy.
After all, she still has countries on her map she hasn’t visited.
About WSU’s School of Nursing
Weber State University’s School of Nursing is celebrating 60 years of innovative nursing education. Established in 1953 to address a nationwide nursing shortage, the School of Nursing was one of six schools selected to pioneer an innovative two-year degree program. In the ensuing six decades, WSU’s School of Nursing has added bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. WSU eduates more than 700 nurses a year, more than any other nursing program in the state of Utah. Ninety-five percent of those graduates will be employed within six months of earning their diplomas. To date, the school has educated nearly 14,000 nurses.