By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–Five senior nursing students and their instructor, Dr. Julia Mattingly, assistant professor of nursing, visited Charleston, West Virginia for an immersion in community health.
The students are enrolled in S473, Health of the Community Practicum, and the trip enabled them to put their training to work by assisting Remote Area Medical (RAM).
RAM is a nonprofit provider of mobile medical clinics in Appalachia and other under-served areas in the U.S., and is also active in disaster response worldwide.
The organization is lean, relying on a few facilitators who mobilize local and regional medical practitioners for the short-term clinics.
RAM provides free dental, vision, medical and even veterinary services to the uninsured and others unable to afford necessary care. Since 1985 RAM has delivered more than $120 million worth of medical services to 740,000 people, and veterinary care to 67,000 animals.
The students saw and triaged patients suffering from uncontrolled hypertension, ear aches, diabetes, chronic pain and more. They assisted and observed in the vision and dental areas, and received training in the use of naloxone (“Narcan”), a medication used to combat opioid overdose.
Throughout the experience, they were meeting learning objectives that included the collection of comprehensive data on the health status of the population, applying population-based research to practice, and providing teaching and supportive counseling to promote health, prevent disease and ensure a safe environment for individuals, families and the population.
Students then wrote a reflection paper on their impressions from the clinic.
But the learning didn’t stop there.
Mattingly and the students stayed at a motel nearby, enabling the students to immerse themselves in the Charleston community with visits to local markets and restaurants. They also completed a “windshield survey,” exploring the community in their vehicle and making observations that are pertinent to the health of the local population.
The experience resonated strongly with the students.
Emily Ziegler, a senior from Georgetown, Ind. majoring in nursing, was both tested and gratified by the work with RAM. Among the many people who spent the night outside, waiting for the clinic to open, she got to know one woman who had gone without food and water rather than lose her spot in line.
“Much of our world lives in poverty and needs the help of others just to make it through each day,” Ziegler said. “It is our job as nurses in the community to help those in need find available resources to provide for themselves and their families.”
Ziegler, whose clinical experiences at IU Southeast have ranged from critical care and pediatrics to psychology and labor and delivery, built relationships with the patients, developing empathy for their situation.
“Experiences like RAM help open your eyes to reality and the everyday struggles many people in our world face, and encourage us to do more to help those in need,” Ziegler said.
During the Charleston clinic, 775 patients were served, with the all-volunteer staff—including the IU Southeast students—providing $280,231 worth of services.
For Mattingly, experiences like the partnership with RAM are essential to the mission of the School of Nursing.
“The support that IU Southeast provides for this type of service learning activity is integral in building members of society who are civically engaged,” Mattingly said.