Nursing alumna applies skills to emergency planning

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When Dorothy Lowry, a staff nurse, was called down from her office at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait to attend to a man with health problems, she saw firsthand the value of emergency training.

"I was called for someone who fell," said Lowry, then a student of Norwich University's Master of Science in Nursing program. Fortunately, she had trained the security staff in CPR just two weeks earlier.

"Well this guy's flat out on the deck. I've seen that face before [and] it's usually in the [intensive care unit]."

The man, who had fallen after entering the embassy, had suffered a massive heart attack. But one of the officers had administered defibrillation and CPR by the time she and another nurse arrived and took over.

"We taught these guys the skills they needed to save his life," said Lowry, 41. "It was just incredible. It was gratifying to see it had a real-world impact."

One of two staff nurses at one of the largest U.S. embassies, Lowry oversaw a patient population of approximately 500 people, including 170 children. At the embassy, Lowry worked in public health, community health, urgent care, scheduled care, physicals, pediatrics, administration, management and teaching.

"It was [unlike] anything you could think of, and it was wonderful," Lowry said.

As a student in the nursing program, she would study a procedure a few weeks after doing it for real. "I would think: 'I could have done that better.'"

Lowry has fit in a Norwich nursing education wherever life has taken her. When her husband was stationed at Norwich as an ROTC instructor in 2003, the family - including three kids - moved to Vermont, and Lowry entered into the undergraduate nursing program, finishing in 2006.

Then, her husband was stationed in Kuwait on a two-year assignment that allowed him to bring his family. Lowry and the children moved, and she enrolled in the nursing program online.

At the time, avian flu had been detected in bird populations throughout the Gulf region of the Middle East. As the U.S. Embassy is responsible for advising all U.S. citizens - approximately 25,000 people - a policy on how to handle a pandemic outbreak was an important procedure to keep up to date.

A self-described "Army brat," and a former member of the Reserves, Lowry has a background in crisis response from a nursing perspective. For her nursing practicum project, she reviewed the embassy's out-of-date pandemic policy and rewrote it, forging relationships with Kuwaiti government counterparts important to the success of the policy along the way.

"Our policy hadn't really been looked at in a couple of years by a good eye; by someone with her background," said Kay Burnett, a physician's assistant at the embassy and Lowry's supervisor. "The previous policy was basically, 'evacuate and run,' and that is not the CDC and World Health Organization-recommended policy now."

Lowry revised the policy to reflect recommendations for seeking safe shelter and staying in one place. She also helped craft messages to U.S. citizens working in the country.

What began as a class project grew into policy.

"The entire 'front' of the plan is brand new. It's a planning, teaching and assessment phase that should be ongoing before any bad thing ever happens. That way, the policy isn't just a piece of paper. Properly used, it has life. The purpose is not just to have a set of instructions, but to help the entire community feel safer because they are empowered to take care of themselves and know how to respond," said Lowry, who augmented her work with community outreach education on crisis planning.

"It's straight-up nursing process that the NU nursing sophomores are having pounded into their brains right this minute! It's plausible to say that everything in nursing builds on that one concept."

Not only did Lowry work full time in her field, complete a graduate degree and take care of her family while working in Kuwait, she had a baby.

"I was going to get a Persian rug [but] I got a baby instead," Lowry said. "I spent all the money I saved up for a carpet on maternity leave.

"It was great at 3 a.m. when I [was] up with the baby anyway. I was like, 'I can do my [class] posts,'" she said.

Lowry and her family recently returned to the U.S., where they live in Northern Virginia. She was recently hired as medical planner for the D.C. Department of Health Emergency Planning and Response Agency. Lowry believes her Norwich education and work at the U.S. embassy in Kuwait are the reasons she got the job.

"The PI response plan project let me present a real-world example of what I could do and show that I know my way around that sort of policy formation," she said. "That's why I really like the CGCS [College of Graduate and Continuing Studies] approach of applying the learning to where you work."