Nursing students learn about rural healthcare

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A divide commonly exists between rural communities and healthcare access, but a grant will soon allow University of Virginia nursing students to be in closer reach.

Located in Charlottesville, the university’s School of Nursing is making community engagement a new component of its psychiatric mental health nursing course. Fourth-year nursing students will no longer spend their clinical studies solely in traditional mental healthcare settings. Instead they will travel to some of the state’s rural communities—partnering with patients and healthcare providers—to devise interventions for the locations’ largest health problems.

“The goals of the course are to give students new opportunities in rural settings with healthcare challenges and give students an opportunity to work with those communities,” says Diane Boyer, RN, MSN, PMHNP-BC, DNP, clinical instructor at the School of Nursing.

Boyer and Cathy Campbell, an assistant professor at the school, designed the course through collaboration with the Appalachian Partnership for Pain Management and the Healthy Appalachia Institute. The program will educate nurses about working in rural clinics and hospitals where resources and funding are often sparse.

The course will focus heavily on substance abuse, addiction, and depression. Reason being that such healthcare conditions occur in Virginia at a higher rate than they do any place else in the country, says Boyer. Chronic pain management will be another aspect of nurses’ studies due to high death rates linked to prescription pain medications.

The coursework was crafted to not only immerse students in rural life—but also to help them make connections between the communities’ healthcare problems and solutions. For instance, the course requires students identify a healthcare issue and design an intervention. They must also work with patients encountering the issue and faculty from UVa-Wise to develop the intervention.

“We will look at what we can do to improve the services for people experiencing these healthcare issues and also to improve the management of these healthcare issues,” says Boyer.

The Office of the Provost, which oversees education, research, and public service in the university, awarded the $5,000 grant for the course. It will be offered to students in the fall 2009 and spring 2010 semesters, and one other semester that has yet to be determined. Boyer and Campbell will instruct the course.

While it may be a tough reality for students at first, Boyer anticipates exposing them to rural life will aid in their professional development in the healthcare field.

“I think what’s going to be hard for them, painful for them, and also incredibly important for them is to see people who are dealing with difficult healthcare issues in an area where there is great poverty,” says Boyer. “What I’m hoping is that they become more compassionate for people who have chronic illnesses and understand the struggle that these people face in order to try to acquire treatment and manage the recommended treatment.”

“I also hope that they will learn that patients have great wisdom in terms of trying to identify solutions,” she adds.