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Course allows nursing students to take active role in assessing, serving local community needs

Students in the course participated in the Salvation Army’s Hands and Feet Clinic, something they have done for multiple years.

Out of the classroom and into the community, students from the Liberty University School of Nursing (LUSON) have learned about serving their neighbors by volunteering at regular clinical programs in Lynchburg, Va., and even creating their own opportunities, all as part of the course NURS 442: Strategy for Community Health Nursing Clinical.

A senior-level course in the LUSON curriculum and required by the Virginia Board of Nursing, the class is a time for students to develop their perspective for patient care after having learned many of the community nursing practices in their other coursework.

After a lecture portion that teaches the concepts of community health, students then engage directly with the greater Lynchburg community. They gain real-time community nursing experience on a weekly basis through the Hands and Feet Clinic at the Salvation Army and programs like Food for Families and Food for Thought at Park View Community Mission.

An additional component to the course last semester was the Community C.A.R.E. (Community Action for Resilience and Empowerment) project, in which teams of five to six students worked together to support a defined population through health promotion, disease prevention, and risk reduction. Students split into teams and spent roughly 30 hours doing all the planning and fulfillment for their chosen directive.

“The students complete a community assessment, which is a very detailed process in which they move forward with a diagnosis of that community, then they participate in full project planning and evaluate barriers for implementing this project, and they bring it to full fruition by the end of the semester,” said LUSON professor Dana Woody, who teaches the course. “They look at the educational needs of the chosen community and utilize available health statistics to work alongside community partners and put this in place.”

“Part of the project is to present their work with the goal of making what they’re implementing sustainable; they want the project to continue for years to come,” she added.

Last semester, teams partnered with the Central Virginia Area Agency on Aging to develop a way to support elders through telehealth communications, worked alongside the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lynchburg in creating a health promotion program for their staff to model healthy eating and exercise, and expanded the STOP THE BLEED national campaign on Liberty’s campus.

Damaris Santillan, a senior nursing student, said the regular visits to the Salvation Army and Park View prepared the teams for their special C.A.R.E. projects.

“I think it went hand-in-hand perfectly because for a lot of groups, we got to do things at Park View and the Hands and Feet Clinic and then base our projects on those demographics or that community,” Santillan said.

Her team’s project evolved into an effort to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their fellow LUSON students and the Lynchburg community, including clients at the Living Water Counseling Center and guests at Timbrook Library.

“What we decided to do is resilience training in regards to the pandemic, looking at how people have been affected emotionally, mentally, and spiritually by the pandemic and offer support in that area,” she said. “At Living Water and the library, we got to know a part of the community, we got to meet (people) out in their own environment, and we got to know what our community members look like and what their struggles are.”

Seeking to learn from their peers, the group then held an open forum for LUSON students on Nov. 2 in which students were allowed to talk with one another about their life experiences and challenges they’ve faced through the pandemic. They held a time of prayer and worship before handing out two types of notecards: one for prayer requests and one for ideas of how they could be better served and supported during difficult times.

Nursing students helped with a Stop the Bleed course on Liberty’s campus.

“With the prayer requests, so many people shared about how they’ve been going through difficult times, and it was nice to have them trust us with that,” Santillan said. “On the other card, a lot of them said that they’d like more support in the spiritual aspect by having more worship sessions and Bible gatherings, just more community.”

This course, Woody explained, is not the typical nursing training. Instead of learning actual procedures or how to use certain equipment, students spend their semester in the class learning to see their role as a nurse through a Christian, patient-centric viewpoint.

“When you get to community nursing, it’s not pumping a chest or hanging an IV bag, it’s really having a changed lens on your work,” Woody said. “We want our nursing students to be able to see clients through the lens of Jesus Christ and know how important that is. We want our students to know what community means, and we want them to serve as the hands and feet of Christ and see the big picture of nursing practice, which involves the patient at the center.”

Woody noted that this approach is about putting Matthew 25:40 into action: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

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