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Nursing Alumna Addresses Healthcare Disparities at Home and Abroad

Through both Bethel and the United Nations, Kristina Barkey ’85 educates healthcare professionals to serve marginalized populations with expertise and empathy.

By Jenny Hudalla ’15, lead communications specialist

April 26, 2021 | 9:45 a.m.

Kristina Barkey

After discovering a passion for serving marginalized populations at Bethel, Kristina Barkey '85 went on to serve as a labor and delivery nurse for more than 30 years. Now, she serves on a United Nations leadership team working to fight human trafficking through healthcare education.

When Kristina Barkey ’85 signed up for a month-long nursing course in Ecuador her senior year at Bethel, she just wanted to see South America—but what she experienced went far beyond a simple tour. After coming face-to-face with the consequences of healthcare disparity, Barkey came home with a passion that would guide the trajectory of her entire career. 

“I didn’t know how God would use that trip to Ecuador,” says Barkey, who was among the first graduates of Bethel’s undergraduate nursing program. “It just goes to show that you don’t have to have your life figured out—you just have to take one step forward at a time.”

While Barkey went on to serve as a registered nurse in a diverse, high-risk labor and delivery unit in New Jersey, memories of Ecuador remained fresh in her mind. She never forgot the discreteness with which a provider fished reusable supplies out of a shared trash bin, or the despair of a third-degree burn victim who was turned away from the local hospital. 

Her passion for serving marginalized populations led her to begin volunteering in Haiti and the Philippines, and she continues to make annual trips to provide surgical support, birth training, and routine medical care to at-risk women. “Those are the places where my leadership really started flourishing,” Barkey says. “You have to go with a humble attitude and be willing to learn from the professionals there while serving the people God puts right in front of you.”

Because of her decades-long work to address healthcare disparities both domestically and abroad, Barkey received the Inspiring Global Nurse Award at the United Nations headquarters in 2018—an honor that sparked a new phase in her career. As a recognized leader in her field, Barkey was invited to serve on a United Nations leadership team called Global Strategic Operatives, which works to eradicate human trafficking through healthcare education. Through the initiative, she now teaches medical professionals how to recognize signs of human trafficking and provide trauma-informed care. “By demonstrating a spirit of empathy, we’re able to reach patients and get them the resources they need,” Barkey says. “It’s a critical time for us to intervene and make a change.”

"By demonstrating a spirit of empathy, we’re able to reach patients and get them the resources they need. It’s a critical time for us to intervene and make a change."

— Kristina Barkey '85

She has since presented in Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, and the Philippines, with even more plans in the works when pandemic-related travel restrictions ease. The difference-making power of that work recently led Barkey to transition from nursing practice to full-time nursing instruction through both the United Nations and Bethel, where she teaches Cultural Diversity and Health to students in the RN to B.S.N. program.

For Barkey, it’s easy to trace the arc of her career back to the passion she discovered at Bethel. “Besides a really great nursing education, the thing that set Bethel apart for me was the integration of my Christian faith,” she says. “I hope to impact my students in the same way my professors impacted me—because with their education and their faith, they can lead a life of purpose and significance.”

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