Eastern Mennonite University student groups studying community health nursing this spring completed practicums at area organizations, including at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Free Clinic. "This is a great example of partnering with a community instead of going in with ideas that might not work for that particular community," said Abby Byler, pictured (left to right) with Kayla Sauder, the Free Clinic's Bea Bautista, Esther Ghale and Emma Millar. (Courtesy photo)

Public health advocacy projects partner nursing students with local community

Eastern Mennonite University senior nursing major Kayla Sauder wasn’t sure how area residents would react to a group of nursing students knocking on doors to ask about health care needs, but she found out: with appreciation.

Along with her spring semester community health nursing class groupmates Abby Byler, Esther Ghale and Emma Millar, Sauder partnered with the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Free Clinic in part to promote its services and conduct a survey of the local Latino population.

Other groups in the course, which is required for nursing students and offered each semester, collaborated with Bridge of Hope, the Harrisonburg Community Health Center, Harrisonburg High School and an Augusta Health Community Outreach program.

“Community and public health nursing is a unique kind of nursing, with its own challenges and rewards,” said Professor Kate Clark. “The best way to learn is by doing, and these practicums provide valuable real-world experience and opportunities to engage with patient populations where they are.”

In addition to conducting door-to-door interviews, the Free Clinic group planned, promoted and held a community health event open to the public, where they offered information about the importance of having a primary care provider and eligibility for Medicaid expansion in Virginia. Basic health screenings were also offered.

“Through this project, I have learned that there is a lot of value in simply asking people what they need,” Sauder said. “How many times has someone knocked on your door and asked you if you had access to a primary doctor? We are planting small seeds that will empower families and individuals and hopefully lead them to better health.”

For Ghale, learning about health needs in the community and the impact of not having health insurance or access to primary care was eye-opening. “As a future nurse, I have the power and role ability to help with this need in my community,” she said. “I am excited to see what that means for me and how I can help my community.”

Millar was “struck” by the group’s reception. “We have been thanked profoundly by many for promoting healthcare for all and access to it within the Harrisonburg community,” she said. “I feel like I am truly making an impact on the community, even as a nursing student. I never thought I would have the chance to experience something like this in my undergraduate studies.”

Gathering information by going out in the community was a formative experience, Byler said. “We have been taught through nursing school to go into a community and ask for what they see is the problem. This is a great example of partnering with a community instead of going in with ideas that might not work for that particular community.”

Additional student groups in the community health nursing class supported other local agencies:

  • With Bridge of Hope, which supports single mothers facing homelessness, Lauren Brintzenhofe, Anna Gibbs, Audrey Martin, and Katlyn Shelton created health-focused education “bags” for teaching families about health promotion and prevention topics.
  • Marina Baker, Tarsha Baker, Danielle Davidson, and Amber Dodson partnered with the Harrisonburg Community Health Center’s new obstetrics program to create patient education materials about family planning options and routine prenatal/postpartum home care.
  • In collaboration with WARM, a Waynesboro-based program sponsored by the Augusta Health Community Outreach department, Asenie Daniel, Haley Kuehle, and Kaitlyn Klager developed a foot-care protocol for volunteer providers and foot-care education for the homeless.
  • After volunteering in Harrisonburg High School classrooms to learn about various needs of students receiving special education services, Kassidy Arsenault, Maria Cardoso Martinez, Joleah Hamilton, and Rachel Morris planned and implemented several basic health-related sessions for the high school students.