March 12, 2007 | Myrna Anderson

Calvin College nursing students hold session on improving healthcare access in local neighborhoods.

Senior Calvin College nursing students held a 90-minute poster session on Wednesday, March 7 in the DeVries Hall atrium on campus, a session that highlighted the nursing program’s ongoing efforts to improve healthcare access in the Baxter-Madison, Burton Heights and Creston-Belknap neighborhoods via a Spectrum Healthier Communities grant.

“The primary focus of the program is access to healthcare, access to dental care, access to medications and to other resources,” says nursing professor Dianne Slager about the community healthcare component of the nursing program. “The people in these neighborhoods often come from countries where your primary way to get care is to go to the hospital-and rack up big bills,” she said. “We encourage them to take advantage of neighborhood clinics for more consistent and less costly care and other services.”

Practicing in the neighborhoods

The student nurses work in groups in the neighborhoods for two six-week stints during their junior and senior years. They carry out a neighborhood survey with the area community health worker. They perform blood pressure and blood sugar screenings from house to house. They do senior health visits. They perform blood testing of children to screen for lead content. They teach about healthcare and nutrition in various neighborhood settings. And they answer questions about a host of health issues.

For the recent poster session the DeVries Hall atrium was festooned with posters outlining neighborhood demographics and strategies for care and spotlighting breast cancer, hypertension, lead poisoning, diabetes, asthma and other issues targeted by the program. Students stood available to answer questions.

“These women are incredibly knowledgeable,” says Slager. “When they graduate, they know more about what services are available in the neighborhood than many RNs in the hospital.”

Each neighborhood nursing group also had a special focus. Students stationed in the Baxter-Madison area participated in a Super Clean, an intensive cleaning of a house to eliminate lead particles. The student nurses working in the Creston-Belknap area hosted a health fair at Palmer Elementary School. They persuaded a local store to donate free bike helmets for the bike safety component of the fair. And in Burton Heights, students concentrated on educating about breast cancer and diabetes.

Habla espanol?

Students working in the predominately Latino Burton Heights neighborhood required an extra credential.

Says Slager: “They had to do everything in two languages. When they enter the nursing program, we ask anyone who is a Spanish major or minor or who has learned a substantial amount of Spanish to commit to Burton Heights.”

Future nurse Michaela Ryzebol is hoping to take her skills to the mission field following graduation. Working in the Baxter-Madison neighborhood (actually two neighborhoods) was good preparation. “I wasn’t very excited going into it at first,” she said. “Now that the end has come, I’ve seen how I’ve learned from it.”

Ryzebol is now grateful for the challenge of working with one-on-one with residents.

“You learn that it doesn’t come easy,” she says. “You have to go out and get their cooperation. There are difficult ethical situations too. It teaches you to be flexible.”

Alysha McFadden, another senior who also worked in Burton Heights, says the community health focus taught her to be culturally sensitive.

“When talking to a homeless person about nutrition, for example, you have to keep in mind that the person might not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s important to provide health care that’s appropriate.”

Those are some of the values the program is designed to teach, says Slager: “It makes them better nurses in whatever setting they are led to work in."

For a complete photo gallery from the nursing poster session see the Roving Webcam.

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