Serving brings joy to clients and caregivers alike.
Nursing students at The University of Alabama in Birmingham and members of Sigma’s Nu Chapter help meet basic healthcare needs of a vulnerable population in their community.
Nu Chapter, founded in 1958 at The University of Alabama School of Nursing in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, was the 12th chapter chartered by Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing (Sigma). Like all of Sigma’s 536 active chapters, Nu Chapter is committed to fulfilling Sigma’s mission to advance world health and celebrate nursing excellence in scholarship, leadership, and service. This is a story about nursing students and chapter members serving a vulnerable population in their community through volunteering.
Birmingham, Alabama’s most populous city, is located in Jefferson County. To care for adult clients who are physically or mentally challenged, the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity provides an Adult Day Health Care Center in Birmingham’s Wylam community. Operated by the county and funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the clinic provides weekly health screenings for the 65 clients who come to the center.
That’s where The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and Sigma’s Nu Chapter come in. A partnership between UAB School of Nursing and the Wylam Adult Day Health Care Center is operating an outreach program with win-win benefits: 1) clients are screened and receive basic healthcare, and 2) undergraduate and advanced practice nursing students, working interprofessionally with dental and optometry students, gain experience in delivering healthcare and basic health education to a vulnerable population in a challenging community setting.
The partnership began in 2014 when Karen Coles, DNP, RN, assistant professor of nursing at UAB, visited the clinic as part of an undergraduate community nursing course she was teaching. When she learned no one was consistently providing the weekly health screening and basic medical care that was intended for the clients, Coles told Yalanda Muhammad, the clinic’s manager, that she and her students could fill that void. Since then, the partnership has expanded to include students from UAB’s accelerated master’s degree and nurse practitioner programs. Other UAB School of Nursing faculty members also began assisting on a regular basis.
In 2018, Holly Gainer, a public relations specialist who covers stories for UAB School of Nursing, wrote about the program in a UAB News article titled “‘No bad days’: Nursing students learn to provide care with compassion, love, and laughter.” She quotes nursing student Alejandra Hernandez: “[The clients] are such a loving group. When they arrive in the morning, they run into the room to give us hugs. I love being here and caring for them.”
As Gainer reports in her article, figuring out how to communicate with clinic clients while providing care is a challenge these caregivers often encounter. Activities such as brushing teeth or using a thermometer are not always intuitive to clients. By participating in the healthcare initiative, students learn how to educate attendees on handwashing and dental hygiene. In addition to providing healthcare, nurses and students spend time at the end of each visit playing card games and dominos with the clients, as well as dancing and singing with them.
As a nurse and faculty member at UAB School of Nursing, I also volunteer with screenings and other healthcare, which gives me an opportunity to observe client-student interaction. For many students, the experience has been eye-opening. They didn’t realize that the need for this type of care exists in a community so close to their school.
In 2015, when Coles became president of Nu Chapter, she and I identified the Wylam clinic outreach as a potential service opportunity for chapter members. After the chapter’s board approved the initiative, we arranged for members to volunteer at the site on an ongoing basis. As with the students, serving at the clinic provides these nurses with an opportunity to work with a vulnerable population while giving back to the community. When I became president of the chapter in 2017, we continued the practice.
This week—7-13 April—is National Volunteer Week in the United States. A special week isn’t required, however, to experience the joy of volunteering. At the Wylam Adult Day Health Care Center in Birmingham, we’re experiencing it year-round.
Celebrating 60 years
Nu Chapter members recently celebrated the chapter’s 60th anniversary. Held in conjunction with UAB School of Nursing’s annual Alumni Night, the event, held 18 November 2018 in the school’s recently renovated and expanded building, featured keynote speaker Wipada Kunaviktikul, PhD, FN, FAAN, recipient of the school’s Distinguished Alumni Award. A 1994 PhD graduate of the school, Kunaviktikul is dean of nursing faculty at Chiang Mai University in Thailand.
Patricia E. Thompson, EdD, RN, FAAN, past chief executive officer of Sigma, was also honored that evening. A 1971 Master of Science in Nursing graduate of UAB School of Nursing, she received the inaugural Patricia E. Thompson Leadership in Service to Nu Chapter Award. RNL
Laura A. Steadman, EdD, MSN, CRNP, FNP-BC, an assistant professor and coordinator of the nurse educator specialty track at The University of Alabama Birmingham School of Nursing, is president of Sigma’s Nu Chapter.