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Press Release: "Translating knowledge to practice" course gives student nurses the power to make a difference

"Translating knowledge to practice" course gives student nurses the power to make a difference

Students partner with nurse leaders in local health care systems to effect change

Author:  John Hoey
Date:  July 26, 2007
Department:   College of Nursing
Master's degree nursing students from UMass Dartmouth are leaving their mark in the health care realm. A course called "Translating Knowledge to Practice," sends them into local facilities to partner with nurse leaders in the agency to improve practice and negotiate change.

Now in its fifth run, the program represents the culmination of their studies and replaces the thesis model, according to Professor Nancy Dluhy. "The trend is to move away from a thesis which is all theoretical and instead give the students more of a flavor of how they'll function in a team interdisciplinary situation outside in the world of practice."

As a final project, the students partner with a health care system with outcomes and see it through to completion. Last fall, UMass Dartmouth teamed up with Charlton Memorial Hospital and the Visiting Nurses Association (VNA) of Southeastern Massachusetts, both in Fall River. During the spring 2007 semester, practice partners included St. Anne's Hospital in Fall River, the Southcoast Hospitals System, the Fall River and New Bedford chapters of the American Cancer Society, and the Greater New Bedford Health Center.

"Our students are embedding themselves in the community," said Professor Sharon Sousa, who oversaw the course. "They are working with champions to make a difference and accomplish tremendous things. They learn how to work with people and deal with resistance to change. This (experience) puts them at the forefront in community health initiatives."

Examples of past projects include:

- continuation of stroke initiatives in the Southcoast Hospitals Group, specifically investigating and refining an evidence-based process to evaluate patients to see if they qualify for blood clot dissolving drugs;

- the teaching of protocols regarding falls and medicines that aggravate falls at the VNA, including developing an outline evaluation card for nurses to carry in their pockets;

- expansion of a pneumococcal vaccine initiative at Charlton Memorial Hospital.

Students Andrea Riiska of Mansfield and Linda Adelberg of South Dartmouth were both on the team that reviewed strategies to improve compliance with the pneumococcal vaccine screening and administration. They also developed and presented a train-the-trainer program for Charlton resource nurses and revised the pneumococcal screening tool.

Adelberg explained that the project identified high risk populations under age 65 who should receive vaccinations. "Before, the focus was on the population over age 65. We helped the resource nurses know how to identify a whole new group of people who need vaccinations."

She described the course as "mutually beneficial" to UMass Dartmouth students and Charlton Memorial Hospital. "It had been a while since I worked in a hospital setting and I'd never worked with management before so I saw the other other side of the door. We taught leaders in a good collaboration and made a change."

Noting that she had written a significant number of research papers in the nursing program, Adelberg said that she learned more from this approach. "By now, I know how to write papers. What I didn't know before was how to collaborate with a working facility to make a change and develop policy. That experience proved much more valuable and useful in the real world," she said.

"The project provided an avenue for graduate students to sharpen skills needed for effective leadership in their future roles," added Riiska. "The most important long-term goal of this initiative is illness prevention and health promotion in the southeastern Massachusetts region."

During the spring semester, projects ranged from educating the public about the importance of colonoscopy screenings in conjunction with the American Cancer Society and the proper use of nebulizers for asthma with the Greater New Bedford Health Center to assessing family involvement during cardiac arrest emergencies at St. Anne's Hospital.

The "Back to Sleep" project at Charlton involves educating parents and staff members to put babies on their backs to sleep rather than their stomachs. This practice will cut down on incidences of Sudden Infant Death (SID) and break a long-standing myth, according to Dluhy.

Said Karen Pehrson, psychiatric clinical nurse specialist for Southcoast Hospitals, the "Back to Sleep" project will be the first to expand from Charlton to St. Luke's and Tobey Hospitals. She noted that it was based on a national study in California and will help to reinforce and replicate research findings and adapt them to different parts of the country.

Pehrson, also a UMass Dartmouth visiting lecturer, wrote the proposal for this project to occur. "Students want to be engaged in a project with direct clinical problems and watch it bear fruit. They learn to work with clinical partners to benefit patients. This experience is much more meaningful than a thesis that wouldn't be used or seen beyond the faculty person reading it. The collaborations are a win win situation for everyone."

UMass Dartmouth student participation with Charlton's stroke program was extremely helpful and resulted in several changes to existing therapies, said Susan Jenkins, the hospital's stroke coordinator.  "I found the quality of the graduate students' work exceptional and most beneficial to our patients. Their input regarding the staff was also appreciated."





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