By Patty Huston-Holm
Given the choice between having a doctor or nurse at your bedside, pick a nurse.
Brian and Judith Taylor, a recently retired husband-and-wife physician team in Uniontown, Pa., humbly make that recommendation.
This endorsement is not to say that doctors aren’t important. They are. To state otherwise would negate the long and productive medical careers the Taylors and countless other physicians have.
But the world’s need for nurses is critical. The World Health Organization in 2020 reported 28 million nurses make up 59% of the world’s health care workers. There are about two for every doctor. At that, WHO says there is a 5.9 million nursing shortfall. The demand is even greater in developing countries.
For close to two decades, the Taylors have been doing what they can to help plug the nursing gap in one of those countries – Uganda. They have funneled their contributions through the Pennsylvania-based non-profit, Uganda Christian University (UCU) Partners, which, among other roles, provides UCU nursing scholarships.
The Taylors’ support has been anonymous – until now.
In late February, they agreed to publicize their names alongside their philanthropical efforts in hopes of inspiring others to contribute. For the parents of three, with two grandchildren, the Taylors have been downsizing – such as moving from a five-bedroom home to one with two – to give more.
“You can’t put a U-Haul behind a hearse,” Brian joked.
In conversation from their modest home in rural Pennsylvania, Brian and Judith Taylor shared part of their story. It’s one that has influenced countless UCU nursing student stories. With seriousness and humor, the two doctors described what led them to appreciate and understand the need for nurses and why they champion UCU nursing education.
“Too many times, doctors from economically poor countries go to wealthier countries to make more money,” said Brian, who first visited UCU in 2005. “Nurses stay behind and care for families, friends and neighbors to the very end.”
Judith, who, five years ago, concluded her medical career of decades in oncology and hospice care, has first-hand knowledge of the impact nurses have at the end-of-life stage. Nurses “are keen observers and listeners,” acting as a bridge between the patient and the doctor, she said.
“Most of the time, 70 percent of a diagnosis can come from asking good questions, 25 percent from an exam, 5 percent with a technical test,” according to Judith, who worked as a nurse aide in the early part of her career. “This applies especially in the developing world, where there is limited access to technology.”
A native of England, Judith’s early professional career focused on radiation oncology. Before retirement, she was a doctor in Hospice. Now, she is a volunteer with an interfaith organization, mostly taking patients to appointments. Brian started out as a computer scientist, but shifted to general medical practice after “falling in love with an English woman while in Scotland.” Following retirement as a general practitioner, he taught anatomy and physiology to nursing students for three years.
“At UCU and through Partners, I saw a critical need and a good organization to help a quality university meet that need,” Brian recalled of his visit to Uganda 17 years ago. “The Christian focus aligns with our faith-based beliefs. And the wonderful notes from the nursing students let us know how much they appreciate us.”
Judith has never been to Uganda. She was poised to go in 2020 when Covid hit. She hopes to visit this October.
Practicing medicine in disadvantaged countries is not foreign to the Taylors. In their 46-year marriage, the couple has provided health care services both in the United States and abroad. Through church and other Christian groups, they have felt a calling to lend their medical expertise in Bolivia, Honduras and Myanmar.
Both on their own and through the Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders (SAMS), the Taylors spent most of their out-of-country time in Myanmar, one of the poorest countries in southeast Asia. In their six years of visits to Myanmar (also known as Burma), they built friendships and provided health educational services.
“We spent a lot of time listening before teaching,” Brian said.
With listening comes understanding, according to Judith who, along with Brian, quickly realized that many people in huts with dirt floors and limited sanitation believed in witchcraft and took advice from unqualified tribal “healers.”
In some villages, Judith recalled, there was a practice of putting pig feces on umbilical cords with a belief this prevents infections. At the same time, she observed one young man with no formalized health credentials correctly identify someone with leprosy and, as a nurse would, “stay at the leper’s side until he got the care he needed.”
Their role was one of gently dispelling myths while teaching healthcare and wellness and sharing the word of Christ.
In one lesson of wellness in Myanmar, Judith used balloons to demonstrate a lesson about high blood pressure. She watched as her class of mostly young people from farming backgrounds positioned the deflated balloons at the sides of their mouths like flutes to blow them up to various sizes and pop them. This, she explained, is not unlike blood vessels that can burst and cause strokes if proper care isn’t taken to lower blood pressure.
The Taylors administered health care training and provided prevention information through local health care workers who visited villages on mo-peds.
And they incorporated evangelism.
“It’s hard for physicians to think that prayer is the first thing to do,” Judith said. “They often think it’s the last thing, but prayer should be first, last and ongoing.”
Brian said the Taylors have served in the USA and other countries in times of calm and discord, observing that situations of “natural or political crises are when people will most turn to the gospel” and that “if people have heard the message before, they better realize how the Word gets them through.”
For the Taylors, as Judith concluded, helping future nurses fill the health care gap in Uganda is simply a continuance of “putting the talents and blessings God gave us to work.”
(NOTE: Judith made the first Taylor contribution for a Partners nursing scholarship fund. With Brian and Judith Taylor’s recent agreement to be open about their involvement, the endowment includes the new designation of the Dr. Judith Taylor Nursing Student Award.)