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Rebecca Harmon

From Guatemala to dark world of sex-trafficking, experiences ignite grad’s community nursing goal

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Written by Debra Melani on May 21, 2019

After working with a medical team in the secluded villages of Guatemala, Rebecca Harmon finally listened to her mother. Seeing the sick, poverty-stricken people in such dire need of health care, she made the decision to follow in her mom’s footsteps and become a nurse.

Harmon is set to cross the stage during the May 24 Spring Commencement 2019 University of Colorado College of Nursing ceremony on the Anschutz Medical Campus. And, as Harmon accepts her BSN, her mother likely will be one of the loudest fans cheering her on.

“My mom’s a nurse, and she always told me: You need to go to nursing school. You should be in the medical field,” Harmon said. “But of course, being my mom, I never listened to her.”

Interpreter stint fuels nursing career goal

Unsure of her direction after high school, Harmon began working with an organization that deployed medical teams to foreign countries. Having moved with her parents back to their native Mexico for the duration of her elementary school years, Harmon was fluent in Spanish.

So she completed some interpreter training and joined a trip.

“I went to Guatemala for three months and did interpreting for the doctors,” she said. “And I really fell in love with it. I loved being a provider for people who are underserved.”

When she returned, she began her education, entering CU Nursing through the Integrated Nursing Pathway program. “It is such a well-known program, and they really focus on diversity and offering more of an opportunity for diverse students compared to other programs.”

Sex-trafficking experience confirms nursing call

The nurturing spirit her mother must have seen came through again, when a good friend of Harmon’s fulfilled a long-time dream of opening a girls’ home for sex-trafficking victims in Denver. Despite facing the demands of a nursing program, Harmon worked part-time in the home for girls ages 12 to 18.

“I was called a direct care provider, so I was with these girls one-on-one every single day.” The girls who qualified for the home often came directly from the sex-trafficking world and were highly traumatized and confused, Harmon said.

“It just made me so aware of everything that was happening in our backyard and in places that were literally down the street from me,” Harmon said. “It’s just amazing now that they opened the home how much more awareness there is of it and how many cases we have to turn down because there is simply not enough space,” she said. “There is a huge need.”

Many of the girls were runaways from the foster care system. “It made me just heartbroken. I realized how much healing has to take place with them,” said Harmon, who learned a lot about trauma-informed care during her time working with the home.

Experiences help shape community service plan

“It was so helpful having that mental health side of it. Bringing that into my nursing has been super helpful,” said Harmon, who had to quit to focus on her education but intends to continue helping sex-trafficking victims again someday.

For now, her sights are set on becoming a community nurse practitioner and eventually having an even bigger impact on medically needy populations. She and her husband have talked seriously about moving overseas somewhere in critical need of medical care, Harmon said. “We would want to go where we could help even more people.”

Topics: Students