Jan McCarron serves on the H.O.M.E. Board of Directors and retired this year from her position as Director of Community Nursing at Loyola University Chicago. She reflects on the 10 years she acted as a supervisor to nursing students who visit seniors in our intergenerational housing program. She talks about the impact of their visits to seniors, as well as to the students.
Graduation season is special, what with so many fresh-faced youngsters starting a new phase of life. This one was especially so for me, at the other end of the career arc, retiring from Loyola University after years of introducing our nursing students to the dos and don’ts of community health.
DO take the time to find out what’s important to the patients we visit besides their immediate health issues.
And DON’T underestimate the healing power of a smile, a kind word or even a shared confidence.
For the past 10 years there’s been no better place for our nursing students to learn these skills than H.O.M.E.’s Good Life Senior Residences at Nathalie Salmon and Pat Crowley Houses.
There, I’ve had the privilege of supervising our RNs-to-be as part of their community health nursing course.
We visit once-a-week over Loyola’s 14-week semesters, with two-student teams identifying the health care needs of the senior they visit, devising for each a plan to meet those needs … in collaboration, of course, with a primary care physician. The students also work closely with H.O.M.E.'s Good Life Senior Residences coordinators, Caren Arden-Tabani and Mary Rodriguez.
So this year’s graduation ceremony at Loyola’s Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing was a special one for me. Beforehand I figured I’d tear up as I marched in with the faculty dressed in our academic regalia for the last time. But I did not.
What did bring tears, a couple of weeks earlier, was saying goodbye to our H.O.M.E. residents. What I’ll miss most is guiding the students as they learn to work with the seniors.
It’s very special how the students help the seniors, but more so how the seniors teach the students. Some memories:
- Two students were visiting a diabetic who only understood Spanish. Trying to find out why his blood sugar levels were so high, they discovered he had trouble reading instructions, even in Spanish, and was not taking his medications correctly. They got two large bowls. On one bowl they pasted a sun, the other a moon. They put his morning meds in the “sun” bowl and the evening’s in the "moon" bowl. Problem solved.
- Because the students have time to sit, talk and listen, they hear more than a doctor in a hospital might. One student told me: “They tell us, 'I really don't know what diabetes is.' 'I don't understand why I'm taking this medication’.” Student nurses have the time to teach seniors about their chronic diseases so they can control them and avoid hospitalizations or trips to the emergency room.
Always, the students get more than they give. At final course evaluation time, I ask each to write down what he or she learned from the visits. Their answers warm an instructor’s heart:
"I've learned how to describe things more simply and not use medical jargon"
"I think this class will get us to take that extra minute with a patient when we take care of them in a hospital.”
"It helps you see that every patient has a story and that story affects their health and how they take care of themselves.”
“I used to be nervous about talking to older people. This semester I’ve gotten much more comfortable. I see them as people who have so much experience and wonderful life stories to share.”
Fortunately, I won’t really be leaving H.O.M.E. and its wonderful seniors.
As a member of the Board of Directors, I’ll keep helping staff find the health services our residents need … so they can keep teaching tomorrow’s nurses some of life’s most important lessons.
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