Service Learning Innovation When a Nursing School and Private Schools Collaborate, Everyone Wins

By Hernandez, Peggy; Parsons, Susan et al. | American Nurse Today, December 2017 | Go to article overview

Service Learning Innovation When a Nursing School and Private Schools Collaborate, Everyone Wins


Hernandez, Peggy, Parsons, Susan, Blanford, Veronica Ramos, American Nurse Today


Schools of nursing frequently experience competition with one another for clinical sites, which are often in short supply. Population health or public health/community clinicals for bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) students usually consist of traditional windshield surveys and visits to home health and community-based agencies and official and nongovernmental organizations. Although these experiences are useful and informative, nursing students and faculty don't stay in one place for long. At the same time, many private and parochial elementary schools in the United States lack the funding needed for dedicated full-time nurses. Typically, volunteer RNs help with immunization reviews, and office staff provide first aid.

We wondered whether nursing students would benefit from a sustained experience working with one population in one location for an entire semester. We reflected on local populations who were easily accessible and would value our students' efforts.

The plan

Nursing faculty for the population health course in an accelerated BSN program brainstormed about filling gaps with win-win propositions. We considered a variety of human service organizations within the larger metropolitan area, thinking about what we could provide in 10 to 12 weeks per year and how nursing students might achieve desired competencies in the process.

We developed and presented proposals to principals at two very different under-resourced elementary schools. We suggested that by becoming clinical sites, the schools would benefit from customized, free-of-charge health promotion services delivered by nursing students under faculty supervision. In addition, our school of nursing would benefit by acquiring new clinical affiliations with unique learning opportunities for nursing students.

In keeping with the service learning philosophy, we explained that our relationships should be mutually beneficial, making it unethical for the school of nursing to withdraw services simply because we had met our own needs. However, the elementary schools had the option of discontinuing the arrangement after the pilot, if desired.

Thus, our service-learning partnership clinical model was born and piloted for one semester of the nursing school curriculum.

The implementation

The student nurses' interventions centered around nutrition. They analyzed nutritional content of cafeteria meals against national standards and recommended adjustments. In addition, they surveyed the type and amount of food students threw away by grade level and provided nutritional education complete with "quizzes." Nursing students worked with middle school students to prepare nutritious, affordable snacks and drinks and challenged them to make behavioral changes. In addition, they planned and completed health screenings, used creative techniques to teach dental hygiene, and demonstrated the sugar content of popular beverages. They also identified and referred parents in need of medical care.

The nursing students completed windshield surveys of the areas surrounding the schools, visiting local grocery stores and restaurants and then computing the nutrient density and affordability. And they collaborated with local health departments to interpret water sampling reports and disease incidence and prevalence.

During this experience, the nursing students learned to respect the importance of diverse health beliefs, foods, and traditions in health promotion and disease prevention. During class discussions, they also addressed possible resistance to change.

The outcomes

At the completion of the pilot program, elementary school principals, teachers, pastors, children, and their families responded positively to the presence of nursing students in their schools. Nursing students and faculty agreed that the service learning model had exceeded their expectations, and 4 years later the program continues to thrive. …

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