Nursing students help seniors, gain real-world experience

MORROW — Seniors are getting welcome help from local nursing students, who themselves are gaining real world experience in the process.

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners signed a memorandum of understanding with Clayton State University School of Nursing to let students participate in service learning projects with Senior Services.

The nursing school is popular at Clayton State, admitting about 120 students each year in its baccalaureate and master’s degree programs.

Those programs are rich in providing students with field experience, said Dr. Susan Ashford, an associate professor in nursing. She and her colleague, Dr. Jennell Charles, use service learning as part of their academic nursing courses.

“In my course, our students do a service learning project where they work with the agency and develop a project with the agency and the people the agency serves,” Ashford said. “It’s a wonderful experience. It is really incorporated throughout the (nursing) program.”

Ashford’s organizational transitions class partnered with Senior Services this summer.

She said the class worked with the agency to identify seniors with previously-elevated blood pressures and known hypertension. The student nurses talked to the seniors about exercise and conducted relaxation, meditation and nutrition seminars.

“They saw these were things seniors could do on their own and so they started teaching it to the seniors,” she said. “It really gives the students an actual real-world experience. It improves their learning, and it’s meaningful to them.”

Ashford said many courses in the nursing program include this sort of practicum curriculum in which pupils commit to community service projects and gain practical experience with needy or vulnerable populations. She said the students must use their leadership management skills to develop their projects all while getting instruction in the classroom.

“This is not where the student goes out a certain time every other week and volunteers,” she said. “They make a plan for a project and put it on.”

Groups of students are paired with agencies throughout metro Atlanta. For example, some students develop projects and programs that serve mentally and physically challenged adults at the Frazer Center in Atlanta. They also partner with elementary schools and service programs for the homeless.

“Students will many times begin volunteering with these agencies because of the one day that we took them,” she said. “It definitely opened their eyes to the fact that there are needs outside their world. It increases their knowledge of global health.”