Nursing Students Get Immersed in Population Health


By Jennifer Larson, contributor

It’s increasingly important for nurses to know how to care for people in communities at risk. And seniors in the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Nursing are getting an education in that arena that takes them far beyond the walls of a classroom or hospital.

Nursing Students Get Immersed in Population Health

These nursing students take a required semester-long course called Concepts of Community and Public Health Nursing that is designed to immerse them in the communities of certain patient populations.

Instructor Sallie Shipman, EdD, RN, was inspired in part by the “Think global, act local” philosophy espoused by the school’s dean, Doreen C. Harper, PhD, RN. Shipman and colleague Laura Debiasi, DNP, MPH, RN, NP-C, designed a course to allow those senior nursing students to see and experience the living conditions of patients in rural and underserved communities.

“There is so much need out there,” Shipman said.

The program kicked off in the fall of 2014 with partnerships with 25 agencies across the northern half of Alabama. Shipman coordinated the clinical aspects of the program, including the community partnerships, and Debiasi coordinated the partner didactic NUR 428 course.

Nationally, there is a growing emphasis on population health management. As Sandro Galea, MD, recently wrote in a Harvard Business Review article, narrowing health gaps is a value driving much of healthcare--and necessary to “advance our collective health.” In fact, improving the health of populations is one of the three prongs of the Institute for Health Improvement’s (IHI’s) Triple Aim framework.

Shipman hopes the UAB program is helping nursing students gain a better understanding of the health disparities that exist in Alabama. And hopefully, some of those students may wind up returning to those communities to provide care.

“I want them to feel like they are making a difference,” Shipman said.

One of the very first nursing students to participate in the program was Selenia Dunst, now a registered nurse in an obstetrics-gynecology unit at UAB. Each week during the fall of 2014, she drove 90 minutes to Greensboro, Ala., where she worked with Project Horseshoe Farm, a community agency serving children and adults with mental illness and offering service programs for vulnerable adults and at-risk kids.

“In school, you learn how to take care of a patient while they’re there in the hospital,” Dunst said. “But you don’t actually see what kind of conditions they’re going home to. You don’t know if they’re going home to running water, or if they have heat.”

“Seeing it, rather than just hearing and learning about it, helps,” she added.

The program continues to grow, and at the end of their semester, the students present what they’ve learned in an exposition. A few examples of student presentations from their semester in the course include:

  •    Improving the Life Skills of Adults with Cognitive Disabilities, with the partner agency Eagles’ Wings in Tuscaloosa
  •    Exploring Healthy Eating, Hygiene and Habits, with the partner agency Cornerstone Elementary School in Birmingham
  •    Knowledge Outreach for Moms Using Medicaid, with the partner agency Greater Alabama Health Network

It might have been her idea, but Shipman also likes to give credit for the initiative where credit is due.

“This is a total team effort in this course,” said Shipman.  “We have seven faculty who work in this course and 32 community partner agencies.  These wonderful people make this course possible for our students.”

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