The purpose of community engagement for nursing students is to allow students to apply knowledge and skills to address a community need while further developing clinical skills through an experiencial learning opportunity. Community Engagement is a signature learning experience for all students at The College of New Jersey.
With the shift in healthcare to primary care, health promotion and population health, it is important for nursing students to engage in a variety of learning venues. The need for collaborative practices in the community is an ongoing necessity that can enhance care. Community Engaged Learning (CEL) is a signature experience for the students at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). Community Engaged Learning allows students to apply their knowledge and enhance their skills to address community needs. Students develop their civic and clinical skills through this experiential learning opportunity. Community engagement provides undergraduate nursing students with opportunities to increase their awareness of health problems in urban and under-served communities while implementing health promotion and disease prevention throughout the lifespan. It is essential for the student nurse to develop these skills in a safe environment.
Methodology / Implementation
Guided by course objectives, sophomore nursing students spend 25 hours in community learning settings. During this process students implement projects caring for populations with a variety of health conditions in a community setting. Student projects varied depending on their interests. Some students organized a healthy walking club for students with differing abilities on campus. Another group participated in a faculty-developed program known as SNACK (Smart Nutrition and Collaboration for Kids) in the local public school system; students participated in recess activities twice weekly with elementary school children. Students went to TASK (Trenton Area Soup Kitchen) to serve meals, teach health lessons, perform screenings, and tutor students seeking their GED. Students provided breastfeeding/parenting classes to teen mothers at Project Teach, a high school program for pregnant/parenting adolescents. Nursing students developed a peer mentoring program in conjunction with the Career and Community Studies program (CCS) at TCNJ. CCS is a college based program for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Lastly, students provided instruction to girls in critical areas of character development, self esteem, embracing identity, life skills, health and wellness in the Dawn of Hope program.
Evaluation / Results
Students, faculty, and patients all benefit from this type of educational/clinical setting. Students benefited from this program by gaining experience with communication and exposure to populations and communities that differed from their own. Students developed the ability to apply classroom knowledge to the “real world”, improved social responsibility and citizenship skills. Students also improved connections to professionals and community members which offered new learning and career opportunities, and improved assessment and clinical skills. Faculty benefited by the development of new community partnerships. These partnerships offered new opportunities for research and publication as well as networking opportunities with other disciplines, institutions, and other healthcare professionals
Conclusions / Recommendations
All nursing students can benefit from early exposure to community engaged learning. By introducing patient encounters early in a nursing student's’ career, opportunities for longevity with community organizations may become apparent. Many students choose to continue their community engaged learning volunteer service throughout their college career. Several students continued their involvement with the SNACK project as paid research assistants; two students were co-authors on a faculty publication on this project. Other students continued their relationships with the community partners including CCS, Dawn of Hope, and TASK.
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