Camden’s future nurses learn community-based care

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America’s future doctors and nurses are being trained for a health care system that fails our communities’ most vulnerable patients. To address that issue on a national scale, we started the Interprofessional Student Hotspotting Learning Collaborative four years ago. Meanwhile, here in Camden, we’ve found a striking lack of nurses trained in community-based care. To meet that need locally, this spring semester we are teaching a course on health promotion and community care at Rutgers School of Nursing in Camden.

The course is taught by Deborah Riddick, JD, RN, who applies her background in law and nursing to lead the Camden Coalition’s community engagement team. “When I was a nursing student, none of these barriers [to care] were touched on,” she said. “As a nurse you learn that social determinants matter, but if someone had posited this as a lens on the front end, I would have been more resourceful, more caring, and would have had more tools to go upstream and address the policy that affects people’s health.”

Now Deborah is providing that critical lens for a class of 40 accelerated nursing students at Rutgers—Camden.

The class, Health Promotion in a Multicultural Society, leverages the Camden Coalition’s resources to teach about health from multiple angles. Students will learn about teaming and patient care from our care teams, health policy from our policy and advocacy team, cultural sensitivity from our Diversity and Inclusion Committee, behavioral health and substance abuse from national addiction expert Dr. Corey Waller, and complex health and social needs from Coalition founder Dr. Jeffrey Brenner. The last class will feature a panel of nurses from the Camden Coalition and our local partners, to demonstrate the wide variety of roles that nurses can play.

“The thing that struck me [about the course] is that it’s a different facet of nursing,” said Alvin, one of the 40 year-one, accelerated BSN students in the class. “Our other classes are about the skillset; this class is behind the scenes and into the patient’s life.”

Deborah has a long list of hopes for her students. “I hope they fall in love with caring for patients and themselves,” she said. “I hope that they take up the cause of advocacy, because patients really need it. I hope that they aspire to go beyond the boundaries of clinical practice so they can really change health care. I hope that they they listen to their patients, genuinely listen. And I hope that they understand that the community is where care begins— not in the two hours we wait for the doctor and the ten minutes he sees us.”

As for the course, this first year is just the beginning. Medical and nursing schools across the country are beginning to understand the value of community-based care— other nursing schools in Camden have already expressed interest in a similar course. Ensuring that future health care providers are ready for a rapidly changing health care system isn’t just good for their patients; it’s good for the entire system, Deborah says. “This kind of strategy will position us for the workforce of the future.”

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