Students Immersed in Community Care for the Elderly

Alison Hoffman
05/26/2020 15:14


Undergraduate nursing students are putting lessons learned in the classroom into practice in their community through a partnership between GW Nursing and the Loudoun County Area Agency on Aging. Pairs of students spend two days a week at the Mac Brownell Adult Day Center in Purcellville and the Leesburg Adult Day Center, providing a vulnerable population with the kind of health education that promotes safety and wellness.

“The health care perspective our students offer could mean anything from making sure the adults stay hydrated to keeping an eye out for fall risks,” said Karen Dawn, an assistant professor at GW Nursing who educates students working in community settings. The centers serve county residents with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other conditions that are proven to benefit from a communal environment. Participants take part in activities—from field trips to music therapy—designed to promote socialization and mental stimulation.

Although the centers are not intended for those who require more intensive nursing care, Virginia Davies, assistant manager at Mac Brownell, said having the students on site has been beneficial for the seniors there. Students have created games and exercises to promote cognition and developed training and materials on topics such as fall prevention and handwashing for center staff and caregivers.

“They treat participants with dignity and respect and engage them in conversations, and that can be very life-affirming for our participants,” R. Davies said, adding that she is equally impressed with students’ soft skills.

One of the students assigned to the Mac Brownell facility is Alison Hoffman, a former Marine intelligence officer. She said her experience as the daughter of parents who are of the same generation as the seniors at the center has come in handy. Ms. Hoffman engages the seniors with the songs her parents sang to her.

“If I start the first line of a song from the 1940s, ’50s or ’60s, one person will pick up the tune, and then the rest of the participants will all begin to sing along. I’ve found that using music to connect to the cognitively challenged is one of the easiest ways to communicate,” said Ms. Hoffman, who is in the veterans initiative within the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.

The other student assigned to Mac Brownell is Mamoona Choudry, who was a physician in her native Pakistan. She came to GW Nursing with the goal of becoming either a family nurse practitioner or a nurse-midwife. But her work at the center has led her to rethink her plans. “I had never thought about working in a community or public health setting, but after this clinical, I have changed my mind. I have experienced firsthand how these community centers are helping clients and their families,” Ms. Choudry said. “No matter which specialty I go into, I will make sure to volunteer my time at community centers like this.”

Karen Drenkard assumed the role of associate dean of clinical practice and community engagement at GW Nursing with the goal of strengthening existing partnerships and building new ones. These partnerships help students log their required 500 clinical hours, but Dr. Drenkard said they are about much more than meeting requirements.

“We want our nurses to have experience working in the community, not just in hospitals and in research,” she said. “The kind of work that is done in community nursing is really at the core of what nursing is.”The scope of the two-year-old partnership has grown to include an annual health fair that is free and open to the public.

This year, about 20 nursing students will present on 10 health topics chosen by Loudoun County officials. “This is really the first time our students get to be the experts,” Dr. Dawn said.

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