On a Wednesday afternoon in March, University of Maryland School of Nursing (UMSON) student Oyindamola Adewara sat with a handful of other students at the Waverly branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, offering blood pressure checks, health screenings, and more to library patrons.
A community partnership between UMSON and the Pratt Library — the first of its kind in the state, which embeds nursing students within library branches — is providing these crucial free services to the community.
While the students have only recently started offering these services as part of the new initiative, they are already making a difference in people’s lives.
“Giving back to the community is one important thing that we need to know as nurses. It’s not just about working in the hospitals. There are people out there that are looking for help. Some people don’t even have a primary care provider, some don't even have health insurance,” said Adewara, who is working toward her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.
Fifty-six students in the second-semester Clinical Care Across the Continuum course of UMSON’s entry BSN program are on site in small groups at four library branches — Central Library, Brooklyn, Waverly, and Southeast Anchor Library — Wednesday to Friday during the spring semester, providing health services.
While the students cannot assist with first aid, wound care, emergency services, diagnosis of illness, or vaccinations, this program helps to fill gaps in community health care that were made even more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And it provides a hands-on clinical experience for nursing students.
The students saw a patient who asked for free mental health services, Adewara said,
“and we were able to do that.”
Teaming Up with a ‘Trusted Institution’
The partnership was initiated by Theresa Di Seta, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, NPD-BC, assistant director, student placements for partnership development and community health at UMSON, who knew the library already had a partnership with the University of Maryland, Baltimore to place School of Social Work students in branches to provide services to the community. She thought: Why not nursing students?
She reached out to Pratt’s Meghan McCorkell, chief of marketing, communications, and strategy, and the two spearheaded what they hope will be a model that catches on.
“We’re so excited to be partnering with the University of Maryland School of Nursing to bring students here into the library to provide some medical screenings for our customers,” McCorkell said. The Pratt Library is a “trusted institution,” she added.
“We find that people come through our doors, and they’re really looking for resources. And there are so many wonderful places in this city, we’re able to partner and bring those resources into a place that the customers already trust. So, this was a natural partnership to bring University of Maryland in to provide these health care screenings for our customers that are already here,” McCorkell said.
There’s no better way to break down barriers to access for critical services than to bring them into the library for free, she added.
The work the students are doing, Di Seta said, may include helping someone to understand a new medication or diagnosis or assisting someone who was recently released from a hospital better understand their discharge instructions.
“I know that I’ve gotten discharge instructions, and I have to go back and reread it, because you just might not be in the right frame of mind for learning,” she added.
These basic services often are not available to people due to a lack of health insurance or simply a lack of resources, said Patricia Zimberg, JD, MS, RN, an adjunct faculty member teaching one of the cohorts of the Clinical Care Across the Continuum class at the Waverly branch.
But they can make a big difference in someone’s quality of life.
A Clinical Community Buy-In
During a time when the nationwide nursing shortage is having far-reaching impacts on community health, this partnership provides a necessary opportunity for hands-on experience.
Zimberg said this clinical setting is particularly important, because it’s different from what students see during hospital clinicals. In that setting, a nurse typically sees a patient for a brief period.
“It’s a different skill set in the community. We talk about community buy-in, whereas when you have a patient in the hospital, a lot of things are prescribed for them — they don't have as much choice. But in communities, you really have to meet the community where the community is,” she said.
In the first few weeks of the new partnership, nursing students not only provided services such as health screenings and health education, they also spoke with library patrons about their needs for health information in the community. When a patron comes in, Zimberg said, students ask what health concerns they may have — like a mini-focus group — and that information helps guide lessons for future weeks. Each week, two students are required to do a health presentation to the rest of the group.
Recently, Zimberg said, a patron came in asking about managing stress. Zimberg asked the patron to come back again the following week, and students were able to provide tailored information when the patron returned.
“Each week, we try to learn more about and discuss a different topic that really meets those needs,” Zimberg added.
For Annika Marquez, one of the BSN students participating in the class, the hands-on experience she is gaining with members of the community during the clinical experience has helped her to understand different populations and their health care needs.
Marquez said she chose nursing because she has always loved to take care of people. Her grandfathers went through palliative care and hospice, she said, and she understands well the importance of making care comfortable for patients.
“It does feel nice, being able to step into this position and help people. In a community like Baltimore, where lack of health care access is huge, being able to provide resources like blood pressure clinics is such a big deal,” she said.