Community health nursing takes healthcare out of traditional settings such as hospitals and clinics and directly to patients. However, nursing students enrolled in Fall 2020 semester in the Byrdine F. Lewis College of Nursing and Health Professions bachelor’s program faced unusual challenges caring for their clients in the community health nursing course. The students had to adapt and sometimes embrace virtual communications to reach their patients. Two student groups working with very different clients, homeless women and Spanish-speaking low-income workers, had to become inventive and creative in their approach.
“The students like having community incorporated into the curriculum,” said Kristi Chambers, a public health nurse and NICU nurse who teaches this group of students. “In community nursing, you must be creative and shift your thinking. You may have to recommend things that are simpler or easy to acquire. You must be accommodating and be willing just to do what you can.”
One group served the residents of Gilgal, a program that transitions homeless women with drug or alcohol addictions back into society as working, self-sufficient individuals. Students went to Gilgal’s facility multiple times during a semester to provide health checks and education in previous semesters. But for the Fall 2020 students, COVID restrictions mean using Zoom.
Input from the Gilgal director and residents helped the nursing students devise seminars on controlling high blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic diseases. The students used a holistic approach and accounted for the women’s survival-based lifestyle, meaning dietary recommendations were based on what food was available at shelters and soup kitchens – primarily guiding them on making better food choices in each situation.
The nursing students also held virtual exercise classes and taught them to create bullet journals and exercise tracking programs. Many needed coaching on interaction with doctors, so students conducted virtual practice doctor visits. They also gave each resident a journal and helped them use it to gather questions in advance of visits and share a record of healthcare immunizations, test results, and procedures. Many of the women rely on a variety of free and reduced-cost clinics and hospitals. In return, the students received a gracious response from the residents.
“I was surprised at the residents’ response,” said Taylor Holbrook. “I mean, why should they listen to us? I expected a significant amount of resistance, but they responded well, were kind and gracious and participated.” In return, the residents received small prizes via “door drop-offs” for answering healthcare quiz questions correctly.
The second group of nursing students assisted a Latino community in Gwinnett County at a church-based clinic, Portal de Salud (Portal of Health). All Spanish speaking, these students impacted the community’s health in only two days of in-person visits.
Their first visit focused on flu vaccination education. The students researched options for the clients to get flu shots in their area, either for free or at a small cost. Many of the clients didn’t have insurance but could take advantage of promotions at area pharmacies.
The second visit was more impactful as the students screened clients’ blood pressure and shared dietary information to reduce blood pressure and prevent diabetes.
“One priest told us he appreciated us and having the clinic open,” said Melissa Davila, a nursing student. “It had been closed due to COVID, as the director is immunocompromised. We only had two days to participate, but it made an impact on the community.”
In between visits, the group led by Davila developed health education videos in Spanish. Portal’s director asked for videos on two health care topics – preventing the spread of COVID and mental health during the pandemic.
In the COVID prevention video, the students emphasized hand washing techniques and carefully explained the difference in types of COVID tests. For the mental health video, the students stressed social contacts and provided various mental health assistance resources, including a Spanish mental health hotline.
“We wanted to help [the community] with medical information, especially on COVID since much of the info available is not in Spanish.” Said Luz Maria Arroyave Garcia. “They appreciated the work we did, even though it wasn’t as much as we had planned.”
“Nursing students in the community course had virtual engagement with several [additional] local agencies,” said Kenya Kirkendoll, clinical associate professor of nursing. In addition to Gilgal, Inc, and Portal de Salud, they also worked with Girl Scouts obtaining Silver Awards and First Aid badges and assisted the Atlanta Mission and Georgia State University Wellness, as well.
“We are happy our nursing students found impactful ways to reach underserved communities during the challenges of this pandemic,” said Kirkendoll.
– written by Angela Go