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Local needy population benefits through U of M nursing school outreach

By Laura Fenton

Nursing

Not every nurse works by a bedside.

“The average person, their perception of a nurse is the person standing at bedside doing these skilled procedures,” said Joy Hoffman, professor of the Community Health Nursing course at the University of Memphis.  “And nurses can do more than that.”

Each term, Hoffman brings her students into the community to not only volunteer, but to understand the scope and opportunities of the nursing profession.

She and students in the required classes of “Nursing 4127: Community Health Nursing” and “Nursing 4129: Population Focused Practicum” visit various community organizations to do health screenings, hospice care or school nursing.

One such clinic is a foot clinic held at the Memphis Union Mission twice a semester for homeless men.

“Some of our students have an idea of homelessness, but some of our students just really have this stereotyped image of homelessness,” Hoffman said. “They’ve never been to a homeless shelter or met a person in the shelter. I think it’s important to take the students there to let them have that experience.”

Ananya Datta, U of M senior nursing student, was apprehensive and unsure if she and her classmates had the proper skills to treat those at the shelter.

“Instantly, the first thought that came to my mind was, ‘Oh my goodness. Are we prepared to take care of people at (this) level?’” she said.

Once Hoffman prepares the students with the information needed to treat common issues like athlete’s foot, toenail fungus, blisters and corns, she and the students bring supplies to the Mission and set up the clinic. Each 1.5-hour clinic helps more than 30 men.

Despite the preparation, Datta was still nervous.

“Before I walked in there, I was very scared because you have this typical homeless man picture in your mind — he’s going to be creepy, he’s going to be an alcoholic, he’s going to be old — but, no, they were regular people you might see shopping with you or at work or school,” Datta said. “You never know.”

In actuality, nothing about the foot clinic is scary, Hoffman said. Students focus more on helping and informing the men, rather than their apprehensions.

Loewenberg School of Nursing students impact the local community by providing free health care services.

Each person receives full attention from one student who places the man’s feet in a tub of water and salt to soak before scrubbing the feet. While the feet soak, students chat with the men to fill out a data sheet to keep records for the class. But conversations rarely stick to just that.

The men talk about children, grandchildren, what they have been through in their lives, why they have foot problems or what they did before they became homeless.

“A lot of them would say this is the nicest thing anybody has ever done for me,” Datta said. “That kind of takes you back — this is the nicest thing anybody has ever done for you is give you proper medical care?”

Datta worries the foot care might not be enough to keep the men healthy during the winter months.  Although each person is given a new pair of socks and a full tube of medication needed for their foot issues before leaving the clinic, Datta wonders if they will have proper winter shoes, amenities to care for their feet or if they will suffer from frostbite.

“We’re not just taking care of feet,” Datta said. “We are taking care of people who have no insurance and teaching them how to seek healthcare. It was an eye-opening experience to how the uninsured are treated.”

Dean Lin Zhan of the Loewenberg School of Nursing believes community-focused classes like Hoffman’s are vital to the preparation of students.

“Memphis is medically underserved in the area,” Zhan said. “What we as a faculty are doing is to integrate what we call ‘service learning.’ That means when students learn about population-based health, the faculty guides them to reach out to underserved populations. [Hoffman] has done fabulous work in this area to reach out to the community.”

Volunteering has taught Datta to hold her composure, despite the situation.

On one trip, Datta was clipping the toenails of a 65-year-old man.

“His toes were in the worst condition I had ever seen,” she said. “We were being gentle cutting them, and one of them popped right in my eye. It was an awkward moment because you don’t want to react to it. We just laughed it off, but I wasn’t laughing inside. He apologized, but it was not really his fault.”

Zhan and the faculty have plans to serve the community in more ways in the future, such as the possibility of a mobile van unit to take to locations for screenings.

“This is just the beginning,” Zhan said. “We are going to do even more.”

Supplies for the foot clinic are provided from a one-time public service award from the U of M. To donate socks, foot creams or other supplies, contact Joy Hoffman at jehoffmn@memphis.edu.

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