The DeSales University nursing department is now partnering with Meals on Wheels by incorporating the organization into student clinical rotations, a move designed to give students first-hand experience in patient care and bedside manner.
The partnership is part of a required junior-level course in the department called “The Older Adult,” which pairs students with local assisted-living centers, senior centers, and now Meals on Wheels, for seven days throughout the semester to encourage intergenerational communication.
The nursing program first affiliated with Meals on Wheels during the 2013-14 academic year on a trial basis and chose to implement the non-profit into its student rotations full time this year because of the invaluable hands-on skills and new perspectives gained by students.
“We can talk about cognitive changes, but it’s another thing to have someone who’s confused and living in their home who might wander out into the streets because they’re not watched,” Terri Wenner, instructor of nursing in the Division of Healthcare and Science, said. “So we need to see the things that are going on out in the community as well as learning about it in a textbook.
“With Meals on Wheels, they’re looking to make sure that person is in a safe place, and their health is not in a situation where emergency help is needed. On occasion we’ll actually find someone collapsed. So even though it’s focused on nutrition and food, volunteers and our students really get to participate in a site assessment.”
Previously, the nursing program focused primarily on nursing home student rotations, where residents were less responsive and non-participative. But the course curriculum has recently transitioned from having students interact with less active senior citizens to exposing students to more involved and lively older adults.
“Terri’s initial vision was to make sure that, in addition to nursing home rotations, the students could get a good feeling about senior citizens who are still very active and vibrant, getting out into the community, driving themselves to senior centers, or going on bus trips, living in their own homes,” said Janet Parsley, clinical liaison for the Department of Nursing and Health.
According to Wenner and Parsley, student reaction to the partnership has been nothing but positive. Meghan Carr, a senior in the nursing program, was enrolled in the class last year and said Meals on Wheels gave her new insight on her hospital patients.
“The day enhanced my nursing by giving me first-hand experience with members of the surrounding cities who I may often only see in a hospital bed,” Carr said. “I was able to see my clients' living conditions, obstacles, needs, and culture.”
As a whole, the program is beginning to take a more amplified approach toward gerontology to accommodate the growing population of senior-citizens in America. Along with “The Older Adult” course, DeSales started its acute gerontology and gerontology-focused nurse practitioner program this year. The hope is that these courses and programs, as well as the field experience gained through Meals on Wheels and assisted living centers, will provide students with a more full and well-rounded picture of future patients and their lives.
“These people have lived these tremendously full lives—went to college in the 1920s or ’30s during The Great Depression when they somehow scraped enough money together to go; very important stories that students have heard,” Parsley said. “And that, I think, made a big difference when they then went back into the clinical setting in the hospital and were dealing with the elderly. Students realized this isn’t just some person in a bed, this is a person who has had this incredibly full life and want to get back to that.”
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