Giving back – UFV Nursing students wrap up course work with community engagement initiatives  

UFV’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing students took their learning to the next level by developing and implementing community engaged health programs for local organizations in the Fraser Valley.

As students begin to wrap up their last semester of nursing course work, they had the opportunity to solidify the knowledge they’ve gained in the classroom and clinical setting and apply it to the real world.

Upper level students in the nursing program were tasked with partnering with a local community organization, evaluating the needs of the group, planning a program to address the gaps in service, and implementing the program over a two-month period.

Often undergraduate students explore and unpack how resources are allocated and accessed in vulnerable communities, but under the direction of Cindy Schultz and Samantha Hampton, UFV nursing faculty members, these students were able to contribute and serve the communities they reside in through program implementation.

Schultz and Hampton paired the students with four organizations. “The project is truly an experiential learning opportunity for the students,” notes Schultz. “Not only do they get to educate and impact people in their communities, they also strengthen their leadership skills and develop a deeper understanding of health promotion and illness prevention, which is needed as a nurse,” says Schultz.

Semester 7 BSN students

Improving perception of health promotion in vulnerable populations was a key component of the project.

Nursing student Nicole Eslinger and her group members, Jennifer Crandel and Tiffany Chesley, partnered with school counsellors from Chilliwack Senior Secondary School. Grade 10 and 11 students were encouraged to engage with the nursing students during their flex block period. As part of their project, Eslinger’s group found that many students attending their activities were in vulnerable positions. A number of challenges were presented, such as high school students in foster care or caring for other children at home. Many of the students also experienced high anxiety and stigma towards accessing mental health resources in their communities. Through this assessment, UFV nursing students developed and offered a mental health resource program at the high school. Their strategies included painting, animal, and music therapy sessions, health information such as how to access resources in the community, mindfulness exercises, and online mental health forums that were free and accessible to all students.

“One of the most important pieces was breaking down the stigma of mental health for these students,” says Eslinger. “Talking to the students about anxiety and giving them tangible exercises to take care of their mental health was not only impactful for them, but as nursing students we could see the help we were providing was shaping our nursing education. It was the most rewarding experience I’ve had at UFV,” notes Eslinger.

Siobhan McMillian and her peers, Camille Ricketts and Manpreet Jhutty, worked with Hallmark on the Park Assisted Living in Abbotsford. They were tasked with creating a program to educate older adults residing in the assisted living facility on wellness, medical, and recreational health. The health topics were chosen based on participant driven needs and interests, and based on Fraser Health’s assessment of health issues of older adults. The group implemented activities based on mental health and wellness, including brain games such as Scattegories. Health education resources were delivered for older adults such as pain management and cardiovascular health.

“As a future nurse, providing health education to older adults in assisting living during our degree program shed light on how important it is to educate people on managing their needs. There seemed to be a lot of misconceptions about pain and health later in life, and we were able to show participants how they can take control of their health,” says McMillian. “It was a positive experience,” she noted.

Also partnering with Hallmark on the Lake, Kaytlyn Tokarchuk and her group members Vanessa Peters and Lauren Magnusson worked with seniors at the independent living facility. Their program was focused on building social relationships between residents by offering games and activities to feed their mental wellness. Falls prevention was another significant aspect of their program. Educating older adults on risk, how to prevent falls through strengthening and balancing exercises, and how to get help after a fall was essential to their health education program.

This experiential learning opportunity also challenged the way nursing student see older adults. “Being in the hospital, sometimes we forget that many seniors are independent and in good health,” says Tokarchuk. “Working with older people in independent living gave us a new perspective on growing older,” noted Tokarchuk.

Amanda Rogalinski and her fellow nursing students Kaylan Friesen, Nicole Renwick, and Sarah Russell engaged with at-risk youth in Abbotsford by delivering sexual health resources and information on managing self-health. The group worked with vulnerable young adults and youth through Abbotsford Community Resources. Sexual health resources and education was delivered to youth in the community, and topics ranged from consent, contraception, sexually transmitted illnesses, sexuality, and safe sex. Nursing students also educated youth on taking care of their bodies and minds and how to navigate health resources in the community. This information was provided with sensitivity in mind; many at-risk youth are in challenging situations that prevent them from seeking accessible and stigma-free care.

“As future nurses, working with at-risk youth in this program showed us the importance of being available for them. They engaged with us and were receptive to our help. It was also really eye opening to see that not everyone has equal access to health care,” says Rogalinski.

“The students worked extremely hard on implementing their programs in the community, but the key piece is their exposure to vulnerable populations and the impact they have left on the community,” says Schultz.

The community engagement programing project is only one aspect of experiential learning in the nursing program at UFV. Students are becoming advocates of health for their communities while also learning how to work in partnership with other community stakeholders and health practitioners.