Engagement with Community Partners to Enhance Student Experiences and Learning
Shervin Churchill, 5/11/2021
Well before the start of the Autumn 2020 quarter, in August, the wheels were set in motion, to start a process that would culminate in incredible learning, enrichment, intellectual productivity and creativity. For one cohort of students enrolled in the consecutive courses BNURS 360 and BNURS 460, it was that August day, when Dr. Linda Eaton first contacted potential community partners to work with our students to solve real-world problems in nursing and health care. Six community partners, from various health care organizations in the region, accepted to guide and mentor our students through Autumn 2020 and Winter 2021 quarters.
The community partners met with students in the Autumn quarter, in BNURS 360, to explore an area of inquiry where students could engage in finding reliable research evidence to support a practice change. This practice change would have to be evidence-based and deemed as having the potential to improve health outcomes in a particular population. Students along with their community partners started with proposing a well-designed research question, where they could then look for reliable evidence as a foundation for the proposed practice change.
Throughout the Autumn quarter, in BNURS 360, taught by Dr. Linda Eaton, students learned and practiced sifting through the evidence to find the most reliable and trustworthy peer-reviewed publications to support their cause. In the Winter quarter, in BNURS 460, (taught by the author, SC) students continued meeting with their community mentors, refined and finalized their questions and began to synthesize the research evidence they had found, to make recommendations to their community partners. This endeavor also included a model of evidence-based practice to implement the change.
For one group of students, Nicole Arayata, Emma Kang, Elvina Kylyukh, Andrea Monroe, and Nina Oleta*, and their community mentor, Amy Anderson**, the important question was whether a virtual platform, compared to a traditional in-person, program of preventing falls in community-dwelling older adults, would help reduce the rate of falls in this population. This is an important question because according to the CDC falls in the elderly lead to 32,000 deaths annually (2020,) the primary cause of accidental deaths in people over the age of 65 years (Zeeh, 2017.) It is estimated that annually $50 billion is spent on medical treatment costs related to non-fatal fall injuries, and $750+ million is spent on fatal falls (CDC, 2020.)
A virtual program would have many advantages like eliminating travel time and reducing health care expenses in multiple ways. The evidence that our students found, while needing more research, was promising and compelling enough for their community mentor, Amy Anderson, to invite the group of students to present their fndings at the Washington State Department of Health’s meeting in June 2021.
Our nursing students shared their insights during this process: “In my 10 years of nursing practice, I have cared for countless patients after a fall and fracture. These are usually catastrophic, expensive and may involve a different level of care after a long recovery,” wrote Andrea Monroe; speaking from the heart, when she could weave in her own work experience with the project she was working on. Elvina Kylyukh also spoke to the benefits this undertaking could impart to elderly patients: “It is very beneficial as not coming into the clinic prevents the spread of illnesses and keeps those who have weaker immune systems, such as the elderly, from getting sick.”
Other students wrote about their enhanced ability to encourage practice change, making room for better health outcomes: “Before taking this course, I was not sure how I could make policy/practice change in the workplace. I honestly did not know I was capable of doing evidence-based research, writing a research paper of my findings, and reaching out to stakeholders to make that practice change,” wrote Nicole Arayata. She continues, “I have grown exponentially in appraising and using knowledge on how to make practice change.” Emma Kang wrote: “Throughout my career I plan to make an effort to be aware of opportunities for improvement in my own professional practice as well as policies in the hospitals I’m working for, and to use research methods to identify specific strategies for improvement and to present the evidence behind them.” Nina Oleta shared: “I never realized exactly how much work went with making a practice change that could potentially be a change not just for one unit on the hospital but for hospitals or different types of healthcare facilities all over the country…, it’s having the research to back up that idea, having the resources to implement it, and having the data to support that the idea or intervention is successful in order to permanently be implemented into practice.”
This model of engaging community partners to work with our students over two quarters, across two academic courses, has been wonderfully productive, and has been appreciated by many students and community mentors alike. Community partners have appreciated working with our students and mentoring them and have gained the information which can potentially serve as evidence used by their organizations to improve health care. Our students have greatly benefited from the expertise and insights of community partners who bring a wealth of real-world experience and in-depth knowledge of the needs of the community.
* Student names are in alphabetical order. All students contributed to the investigation.
** Amy Anderson, MN, BSN, CNS, Director, Safety and Quality, Washington State Hospital Association
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 2020. Otago exercise program. https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/pdf/falls/CDC_Falls_Compendium-2015-a.pdf#nameddest=single-interventions-exercise
Zeeh J, Reinhardt Y, Heppner HJ. Stürze im Alter [Falls in elderly people]. MMW Fortschr Med. 2017 Jul;159(13):52-58. German. doi: 10.1007/s15006-017-9589-2. PMID: 28718157.