Creole can be a tricky language to pick up when you’re first starting to learn it.
Trenton Conway figured this out during his first mission trip to Haiti in 2013. He would try to say something to the locals in their language, but it never really came out right.
“My pronunciation was terrible,” Conway said. “They laughed every time I said something.”
In the five years since, Conway has been back to Haiti four more times, spending a total of 22 weeks in the country. The 2018 University of Missouri–St. Louis BSN graduate went back in January, just before the start of his final undergraduate semester, and he plans to go back again this winter and many more times in the years to come.
Haiti has left an indelible impact on Conway.
“There are nights where I sit down and I’m like, ‘Man, I miss it,’” Conway said. “I can hear the swinging of the gate, hear the kids playing soccer. It’s such a love for the country, for the people, for the culture.”
Conway decided to pursue his DNP at UMSL – another four years of school while he works as a graduate nurse on the trauma floor at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis – in large part so he could find more ways to help medically on future trips to Haiti.
On his first trip to the country through his church’s partnership with the Disciples’ Village organization, he watched as his mother, Misty, helped care for a boy who had a gash in his foot that went down to the bone. By the end of the week, Conway could see the tissue growing back.
In subsequent years, as he advanced toward his BSN at UMSL, Conway added responsibilities, taking vital signs for patients and helping the nurses ensure dispersal of the proper medications.
His Creole is much better now. This past trip, he was able to tell one woman that it wasn’t shampoo that she just took from her church-distributed hygiene kit. It was toothpaste.
“It’s kind of funny, but also one of those moments where you realized the importance of going through it,” Conway said. “We wanted to make sure we’re not just throwing it at them. It’s so counterintuitive. You have to really build the relationships and take the time, just like in America. I wouldn’t just throw some (medicine) at you and say, ‘Here you go. Bye.’”
Nursing has always appealed to Conway because it combines his two passions: connecting with people and helping those in need.
Conway chose UMSL because of the high pass rates its College of Nursing graduates boast in the NCLEX licensing exam, as well as the relative proximity to his hometown of Steeleville, Illinois, which is just a 90-minute drive southeast.
He gained a further affinity for UMSL during his campus tour. Then, once he got to school, he went about making sure that he wouldn’t be able to walk across South Campus without at least four passersby knowing his name.
“My friends are always like, ‘You know too many people. We can’t take you anywhere,’” Conway said.
He was a residential assistant for more than a year, took part in the Emerging Leaders Program and was a member of the Student Mentor Advisory and Recruitment Team for the Pierre Laclede Honors College. Conway’s personality helped him focus in on which field of nursing he’d like to pursue.
He originally thought he’d like to be a surgical nurse, but that doesn’t really favor the outgoing.
“I need human interaction. If the patient is sedated on the table, I can’t really talk to them,” Conway said. “Well, I can talk, but they can’t really respond. It doesn’t work too well.”
Through his work in Haiti, Conway picked up a keen interest in pediatrics. He spent his Senior Synthesis semester this spring working at Mercy Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, logging 12-hour shifts alongside nurse Kim Hall.
This was Hall’s first time serving as a preceptor for a nursing student. She says she “hit the jackpot.”
“He was very intuitive. He caught onto things,” Hall said. “He asked lots of questions. He always gave me trouble and said, ‘I’m asking you a million questions,’ but I told him that’s a good quality. He had a willingness to learn everything and want to know so much about everything. He was very good at that. Sometimes he kept me on my toes.”
At the beginning of the semester, Conway was just an observer. By the end, he was caring for all of Hall’s patients, from newborns to teenagers, under her supervision.
“About halfway through, I turned to her and said, ‘I think, at this point, I feel confident that I could go be a nurse and not kill my patient,’” Conway said. “That sounds so morbid, but it’s the truth. As a nursing student, it’s so scary realizing that I’m potentially the only thing that stands between someone and something bad happening. It’s very stressful, but (UMSL) has done a really good job, with the way the clinicals have gone, of progressively getting harder and more advanced as we advance in the program to get that confidence up and realize I can do this.”
Conway begins his job at Barnes on June 11. Once he passes his NCLEX, he’ll officially be a registered nurse. Once he completes the DNP program at UMSL, he’ll have the ability to diagnose patients and prescribe medication under the auspices of a licensed physician.
Associate Teaching Professor Diane Saleska taught Conway in a legal and ethics course during his junior year and his Senior Synthesis course. She says the DNP will allow Conway to be an even more valuable advocate for his patients during trips to Haiti.
“He’s doing the doctoral program for altruistic reasons,” Saleska said. “He’s doing it because it’s going to get him to where he wants to be to serve people. I truly admire that. He gets along with everybody. I don’t know anybody that doesn’t like him. He’s got that kind of magnetic personality. You just like to be around him.”
As Conway furthers his education at UMSL, he’ll keep Haiti in mind. He feels it’s his calling.
“God is telling me to prepare as much as possible,” Conway said. “I’m one of those people who would rather know a little about a lot. Rather than specialize in feet and then, ‘I’m sorry, you have a hand problem, I can’t help you.
“I don’t like to say, ‘I don’t know.’ I will admit it to you, first thing, but I don’t like to. I would rather have an answer for you.”