This past week, multiple groups of students finishing their Community Health Clinical rotations gave presentations to fellow students, faculty, and staff on the experience of working as student nurses in a Community Health setting. For many of the students, this was the first time we had worked in a larger, population-based community setting. Some of the areas represented included: The Gateway Center for homeless men and women in downtown Atlanta, Moultrie migrant farm-worker populations, the Clarkston Community Center (home to a variety of ethnicities and refugee populations), and Café 458 Restaurant for the homeless. Overall, the majority of students expressed that they had an incredibly informative, moving, and successful experience working in the community.
Student activities ranged from education with the populations, to interventions to address specific issues – such as high rates of teen pregnancy or increased rates of hypertension. Many of the main health topics and interventions focused on exercise promotion, healthy diet promotion, and prevention activities. The levels of prevention included primary, where clients were provided education; secondary, where clients were screened for different ailments; and tertiary, where clients already suffering from diseases were taught ways to decrease morbidity and mortality from their illnesses. Many of the groups were able to evaluate the effectiveness of their interventions through the use of surveys and data collection of community members’ thoughts. The prevention activities were based on the goals and objectives of Healthy People 2020, a US Department of Health and Human Services nationwide program dedicated to disease prevention and treatment. As a part of these Healthy People goals, it is especially important to reduce the disease burden in vulnerable populations – such as the homeless, minority groups, and immigrants.
One of the most common themes described by the students when reflecting on their experiences included the importance of cultural sensitivity, such as respecting cultural differences and different beliefs. Many students expressed that they learned a variety of new information about different cultures and communities that they had not previously come into contact with. Another similarity discussed among the students was the importance of recognizing the heterogeneity inside of the groups. We learned that community groups often have more intra-group variation among their individual members, as compared to inter-group variation. It quickly became apparent that members of the same community cannot necessarily be easily categorized or stereotyped into one or two broad descriptors. In this sense, we learned the importance of breaking down barriers, such as stereotypes and assumptions about group needs and desires, in order to deliver the most culturally-relevant and appropriate care.
The feedback that students received from the Community Health Interventions was overwhelmingly positive. The majority of community participants were incredibly appreciative of our work with them in multiple areas. In addition, all of the students were mutually grateful that we were so readily accepted into these different communities. The people we worked with embraced not only our education and teaching, but also our cooperative spirit and developing sense of unity with them.