January 4, 2012

Nursing students put skills to practice in community organizations

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

The buzz of chatter filled the Health Sciences Lobby in early December, with School of Nursing students proudly sharing their experiences working in community agencies with colleagues, teachers and friends. Their instructor, Assistant Professor Betty Bekemeier, was joined by other faculty, staff, and guests, who all asked questions of students and explored the room filled with posters and flyers to learn about what each student group had accomplished in their quarter of service.

At the December 7 open house, students delivered their final assessments of the project outcomes and shared with colleagues and friends how they put their nursing education into practice with community agencies. All of the projects investigated such public health concerns as obesity and healthy eating, disease prevention and elder care, and other issues such as promoting healthy pregnancies in low-income women and cultural competency in healthcare.

“Everybody—students and faculty alike–seems to really enjoy this end-of-the-quarter Poster Symposium,” said Bekemeier. “Its a time when we can all see what each other has done over the quarter and what our course content really ‘looks like when applied to practice.”

The class, Promoting Community and Public Health (NURS 420) was made up of 70 students in the Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN) and Accelerated BSN programs. The agencies were identified by community health faculty in the School of Nursing.

Students Kristin Katz and Maria Lysen staff their poster presentation.

Students Kristin Katz and Maria Lysen staff their poster presentation.

The class was split into 10 groups. Each was assigned an agency and led by a clinical instructor from the School of Nursing. The students visited their community agency weekly, working with organizations such as Full-Life Care, Work-it-Out School and local Native American tribes to put some of the skills learned in their community health course and from their clinical instructors into practice with hands-on experiences.

“This was a very unique experience in cultural immersion,” said Katie Stiver, who was working on a project with an Indian tribe on the Olympic Peninsula to improve health-seeking behaviors. Their team of five students traveled to the Peninsula once a week to work with the Human Services Office and Early Learning Center. They assisted with vision, height and weights screenings, and developed a hand-washing presentation with interactive components. The group concluded that their screenings with children and work with the elderly populations were important to improving the overall health of the tribe.

Janet Bowen was part of an prenatal care advocacy campaign to ensure babies are born big enough to wear a onesie.

Janet Bowen was part of an prenatal care advocacy campaign to ensure babies are born big enough to wear a onesie.

Jo Saltmarsh and Janet Bowen, both students in the bachelor of science in nursing degree program, participated in a campaign to advocate for Maternity Support Services, a state program that provides prenatal care and support to Medicaid- eligible women, who often struggle with premature deliveries and other health concerns. The pair traveled around campus and to Olympia to advocate for retention of the program, which is currently under consideration for elimination in state budget cuts. As part of their campaign, the team created the “onesie” slogan, advocating for each baby to be born big enough to fit in a newborn onesie.

“The program can help save a great deal of money in the long run,” said Saltmarsh. “Investing in healthy babies now saves $5.3 million in hospital costs later on.”

Each student team spent hours engaging with community agencies to improve overall health outcomes for clientele. Everything from handwashing practices to obesity and exercise in older adults are public health concerns and ones that these students are working to address through their course content.

“Im always thrilled by the degree to which students are inspired by what they experience, by the complex community challenges they encounter, and by what they have learned in the agencies and communities they have worked with,” said Bekemeier. “Their posters, stories, and excitement say so much.”

You can read more about the posters featured in the symposium here. Be sure to check out photos from the symposium on the School of Nursings Facebook Page.