Skip to main content
Sign In

University of Colorado College of Nursing

College of Nursing

Heather Hageman: Student's initiative lands her a leadership role in Bolivia

Role helps student solidify her nursing leadership goal

Heather Hageman

​After practicing as an RN for 33 years, Heather Hageman is about to finish her master of science in nursing this fall as a part of the online i-LEAD program. This past summer, Hageman’s initiative and strong desire to work in developing countries led her to La Paz, Bolivia.  Hageman applied for the Robinson-Durst Scholarship and the Rotary Club Scholarship through the Center for Global Health to fund her project. “I am very proud to say I am the first nurse to receive [these] scholarship[s] and I hope this will inspire other nurses to apply.”

Hageman went to Bolivia to teach the World Health Organization’s Lactation Counseling Training Course to the nurses of the hospital Arco Iris. Her work included teaching six two-hour classes over a six-week period, surveying mothers in the outpatient pediatric clinic regarding breastfeeding, counseling, mentoring a lactation resource nurse, and conducting presentations of survey results to the hospital’s department heads to show their role in supporting lactation.

When discussing breastfeeding counseling with the resource nurse trainee, Hageman noticed positive changes already taking place in this nurse’s practice, including her newfound ability to convey openness with nonverbal gestures. The mother she was counseling picked up on the nurse’s welcoming signals, opening up about problems at home, which were drastically affecting her ability to breastfeed. Had the nurse not listened to the mother’s personal needs, she might not have realized the real issue the mother was having, but she was able to give this mother the encouragement and support she needed to continue breastfeeding. “Because the nursing culture in Bolivia is directive rather than listening, this ‘listening first’ was a true accomplishment for this nurse. I felt my time had been successful and that many women and babies would benefit from this resource nurse’s counseling.”

Hageman could see the impact that nursing leadership can have on patient outcomes. “It inspired me to want to go higher in leadership roles in my nursing career.”

Hageman recalls speaking before 100 beginning nursing students and their professors as one of her favorite memories. On her way to the school, a hospital intern helped her navigate “through a very busy street and a clothing market to reach the lecture hall, three stories above the market.” Hageman presented on the importance of breastfeeding for baby, mother and the nation. Later, the director of nursing at the hospital informed her that her lecture had a successful, positive impact on the students.

After her work in Bolivia, Hageman noticed that in the U.S. “we have a much stronger voice in leadership in all roles of nursing than nurses in Bolivia.” The relationships between registered nurses, nursing assistants, nursing students, and medical students in Bolivian neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) are very different from the relationships in U.S. hospitals. RNs in Bolivia are only paid about $150 per month. In a 20-bed NICU, there is one RN, one nursing assistant, one nursing student and five medical students. “The staffing is so much lower and the acuity higher that nurses have little time for learning and changing.”

“I appreciate the gains nursing has made in the U.S.”

 “I hope to continue to be able to support nurses in developing countries. I would love to take on a role in global health that would support and enhance nurses in Latin America.”