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Students Gain Greater Understanding from Serving Local Vulnerable Populations

Although many nursing students traveled internationally for their public and global health nursing course clinical practicum, a few stayed in Utah to work with vulnerable populations within the community, especially those from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Photo of Maren and her husband

Maren Cox, a student who participated in this group, explained some of the experiences this clinical practicum provided, “I went to the Children’s Justice Center, a center where they do medical exams, psychological exams, and interviews with children who have been abused in some way. It’s an important community resource that I learned more about.” She also shadowed nurses at the Salt Lake County Jail for two days. She added about other experiences, “I went to the HOPE Clinic, a clinic that provides free care, and many of their population comes from Hispanic or immigrant backgrounds.” She continued by explaining, “Most of the patients were Spanish speakers. I only had a few patients a day from other locations, such as India or areas of Africa—all from the greater Salt Lake area. It was pretty cool to see that diversity.”

The students in this practicum read a book called The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. The book chronicles the struggle of a Vietnamese immigrant family as their daughter suffers from a resistant form of epilepsy. With stark cultural differences and a language barrier, there were many issues navigating America’s healthcare system. Maren shared, “That book was eye-opening. It made me realize the importance of ensuring you understand where your patient is coming from because they could have a different idea of what you’re saying than what you think you’re saying. It’s helped me be more inquisitive when patients come in.”

Photo of Makayla

Makayla Mendenhall is another student in the vulnerable populations clinical practicum. Mikayla shared what she learned from her experience, saying, “I came better to understand all of the resources available to people, so I can be more of an advocate for those resources when I come across patients needing them.” She continued, “I’ve become more comfortable with and skilled at working with people from diverse backgrounds in socioeconomic status, education, or the language that they speak. Primarily when I've been in the hospital setting, it’s been with people that are fairly well off. Because of my clinical experiences this summer, I am more comfortable working with people on different trajectories of their life and paths, and feeling confident that no matter where a person is on that spectrum, I can still provide good quality care for them.”

One way Mikayla and Maren’s worldview was broadened was when they attended the annual Addictions Update Conference near the University of Utah campus. It was a two-day conference where students learned about drug users’ current challenges. “I learned so much from that conference,” Maren described. “It was the last thing we did, and it was such a great way to top the clinical experience off. I loved learning about some of the programs available for families of individuals with addiction.” She expressed an insight she gained at this conference by saying, “I didn’t know that drug users are at highest risk when they’ve been clean, because then if they relapse and try to take their past dose, it could be an overdose for them because they’ve lost that tolerance.”

This clinical practicum, though local, is an excellent opportunity for nurses to expand their knowledge of the unique challenges the medically underserved face and increase cultural understanding. Many of our students worked with patients from different cultural backgrounds, such as Latinx, Hispanic, European, African, and Middle Eastern. Although they did not travel internationally, these students learned to work with people with different cultural backgrounds and varying understandings of the English language. This program allows students to understand the health needs of the vulnerable populations within our communities. In some ways, their experiences will be more readily applicable to their future practice than students who traveled internationally for their public and global health nursing course clinical practicum.

Additionally, staying local is economical. Maren explained, “You have to weigh the opportunity cost: you’re not working anymore, so you’re not only spending money, but you’re also possibly losing some.” Perhaps the decision to stay was made for financial and convenience reasons, but there are many benefits to staying local for this clinical practicum.

Mikayla offered additional insights into why she chose to remain in Utah, saying, “What draws students to the international locations is getting to visit places that you wouldn’t otherwise visit; what draws people is the cultural aspect, unique scenery, museums, and all those other things. Also, the food’s good.” She continued, “But you also have to consider that with international travel, there’s going to be language and cultural barriers that can be strong, depending on where you go. You may be unable to communicate very well, if at all, with the people you’re caring for. It limits what you can do because you’re not in that culture long enough. With the vulnerable population group and staying local, you don’t have to worry so much about that, and you get to know more about the vulnerable populations here in the US.”

Mikayla learned about the Savior throughout her summer experience. “I went to the Utah County Jail twice,” she said. “It was a little unsettling at first because it was so unfamiliar. But after about an hour, I started to adjust.” Knowing there were extensive security measures helped put Mikayla at ease, and she could take in the experience. “Being able to interact with people who made some of the poorest decisions you can make in life is a humbling experience,” she said. “There’s a trusting relationship there because the inmates recognize that the nurses within that system are not the bad guys. There’s respect that happens between the medical providers and the inmates. Being able to help them and to treat them like they’re more than their mistakes is empowering on both sides of the relationship.” She continued, “That’s exactly what the Savior did. He was among many who made some of the worst mistakes you can make. And that gave some of the greatest purposes to His life and mission.”

We hope that all our students, no matter where they complete their public and global health clinicals, will remember how the Savior cares for His children and seek to emulate Him.