Community Engagement Curricular Strategies to Reduce Health Disparities

Thursday, 2 August 2012: 1:15 PM

Marjorie A. Schaffer, PhD, RN
Nursing Department, Bethel College, St. Paul, MN
Carol Hargate, PhD, RN
Nursing Department, Bethel University, St. Paul, MN

Learning Objective 1: Describe learning opportunities that emphasize strategies to reduce health disparities.

Learning Objective 2: Apply evaluation results to determine best practices for preparing nursing students for working in culturally diverse, immigrant, and global health care settings.

Purpose: A nursing department implemented a revised nursing curriculum that integrated community engagement learning experiences to address health disparities.  Nursing faculty aimed to prepare nurses who will:  1) contribute to reducing health disparities, 2) develop cultural sensitivity and competence, and 3) develop commitment to serving diverse and vulnerable populations.

Methods: Focus groups with community partners, racial reconciliation lunches and dialogue with nursing faculty members, and lunch and learning sessions with community partners provided a foundation for development of the community engagement curriculum.  Nursing students are matched to community engagement sites (churches, schools, and non-profit organizations) for community engagement learning experiences over five semesters of nursing courses.  Students stay in the same community site; learning experiences include becoming familiar with the agency and people served, a health promotion presentation, and chronic illness project, a major project mutually decided with the agency, and developing a plan for health improvement.  Evaluation measures included: 1) an initial student survey (n = 88), 2) a nursing faculty survey (n = 9), 3) a community partner survey (n = 9), and 4) focus groups with sophomore nursing students (n = 17).

Results: Both faculty members and community partners valued community engagement learning opportunities for nursing students, but they also expressed similar concerns about lack of time and challenges in coordination, supervision of students, and communication.  Focus group data revealed seven themes:  1) experiencing difference; 2) framing the experience; 3) learning from the community; 4) acquiring skills of communication, problem solving, and teamwork, 5) experiencing ambiguity, 6) expectations for faculty, and 7) strategies for creating effective partnerships.

Conclusion: Community engagement experiences provide nursing students with the opportunity to encounter and experience difference in community settings.  Students learn to respond to uncertainty and become better prepared for a nursing leadership role in addressing health disparities.