Nursing program exposes students to community health through first-time parents

Sylvia Metzger, a clinical nursing instructor with the Beth-El Nurse-Family Partnership, plays with baby Carmen during a recent home visit while her mother, Chloe Alqaisi, watches.

Julia Buckingham didn’t know what to expect from a UCCS program that pairs nursing students with first-time mothers, but it ended up showing her the kind of nurse she hopes to become.

Julia Buckingham, a senior nursing student, visits with a mom-to-be.

A teen mom shared with Buckingham and a clinical nursing instructor that her baby’s father had been abusive, but she wasn’t currently in contact with him. Buckingham, a senior nursing student from Colorado Springs, let the mom know she had recently been in an emotionally abusive relationship. They talked for hours and cried together.

Buckingham left with a different outlook on nursing.

“As nurses, we want to fix people, but sometimes we have to step back and see that they are humans—and all someone wants sometimes is to just be listened to,” she said. “It was amazing to see the holistic side of nursing in action because in the hospital you don’t really see that. You have to jump from one room to the next and don’t have as much time for each patient.”

The goal of the program at the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences is to give students a taste of alternative nursing roles beyond hospitals, possibly inspiring them to work in public health.

“Even though we may make small differences on a daily basis, they turn into big differences over time.”

It is offered through the Nurse-Family Partnership, a nationwide community health program for low-income, first-time moms. Nurses visit with the moms at their homes every few weeks starting in early pregnancy until the child turns 2. The idea is offering support and education will result in healthy mothers and babies and better futures for both of them.

“Even though we may make small differences on a daily basis, they turn into big differences over time. We’re helping the moms feel better about themselves and about making decisions,” said Jennifer Jones, nurse supervisor and clinical instructor for the UCCS program. “They don’t always know the right path if they were brought up in difficult circumstances themselves. With us, they have a cheerleader standing by, saying, ‘You can do this.’”

Nurse Sylvia Metzger weighs baby Carmen.

The Beth-El Nurse-Family Partnership has been offered to nursing students during this past year. As more families have enrolled in the program, the number of students participating has increased, jumping from 16 initially to 35 this fall semester. Sixty-seven students are expected in the spring.

For a day, one student at a time is paired with one of five nurses, all of whom have master’s degrees. The goal is to have all senior nursing students spend a day with a nurse while visiting about three moms, staying roughly 90 minutes at each home.

Nurses and students may check a mom’s blood pressure, help with breastfeeding issues, and screen for postpartum depression and domestic violence, sometimes referring them to community resources for additional help. They also work with the moms on becoming self-sufficient, which may include getting a GED or returning to college or work.

They may weigh a baby, measure his height, and make sure he’s reaching developmental milestones such as walking.

“It’s more of a wellness model,” Jones said. “When you go to the doctor, they tell you all that’s wrong. With this nursing model, we say what you’re doing right and how to build on what areas may be challenging for you.”

“Getting to experience this program opened my eyes to just how broad the nursing field can be.”

Matthew Barnes, a senior nursing student from Baker City, Oregon, most enjoyed interacting with families in a one-on-one educational setting.

Matthew Barnes with a baby
Matthew Barnes, a senior nursing student, holds a baby during a home visit.

“Getting to experience this program opened my eyes to just how broad the nursing field can be,” said Barnes, who wants to work in maternal and child health. “It delved into areas of nursing that I never would have thought of as being viable career options, and I got to see how valuable this is to those involved in the program.”

Nurse Sylvia Metzger and Elisa Austria, a senior nursing student from Newberry, Michigan, recently visited a young mom and her 8-month-old daughter. Metzger started by asking the mom questions such as what is one thing you do well at home, is there anything in your life that you would want to change, and where do you feel like you are emotionally?

Metzger talked about the importance of eating foods high in fiber and iron. She brought coconut date rolls as an example of a healthy snack.

The mom asked questions about how to teach her baby sign language. Metzger, who often asked for input from Austria, showed a brief video on teaching babies sign language before practicing the signs for “I want,” “milk” and “play.”

“If you use these signs while you’re doing things with her, she’ll pick it up,” Austria said. “She’ll mimic your hand motions.”

When the baby’s father got home on a break from working a double shift as a chef, he said it scares him when the baby, Carmen, sounds like she’s gasping for air while she’s excited.

“No, this is just excitement,” Metzger said, reassuring him. “This is exactly what we want her to do. She’s happy.”

The mother shared that she had signed up for college courses, beginning in January, and hopes to become a veterinary technician and work at a zoo. Before leaving, Metzger hugged her, telling her she’s so excited about her starting classes.

After the visit, the mom, Chloe Alqaisi, said the nursing program has been vital in helping her family.

“Because my mom lives in another state and my husband’s mom lives in another country, I didn’t really have anyone. Sylvia helped me with any concerns about Carmen or any concerns in general,” she said. “I don’t think we could’ve done it without her.”

“Being able to positively impact a person’s life is why I want to be a nurse.”

Austria, the nursing student, wishes she could have been part of such a program when she was pregnant with her first child.

“As a new mom, you have so many questions, and babies have their own quirks. This program gives young, underserved moms a chance to have those questions asked,” Austria said. “It changed my mind about home-visit nursing. Being able to positively impact a person’s life is why I want to be a nurse, and this program has a huge impact on these families. It is very gratifying.”

Baby Carmen looks at a book in her mom’s lap while nurse Sylvia Metzger and Elisa Austria, a senior nursing student, look on.

Metzger said several students have expressed interest in eventually pursuing roles in this type of nursing. Buckingham, who asked to do even more home visits with Metzger, was one of those students.

Being involved with a program such as Nurse-Family Partnership is exactly what she wants to do. But she feels she should get experience with acute care in hospitals before transitioning to community health.

“I changed from this experience. I learned what kind of nurse I want to be. I want to be the one that looks at my patients as human beings and not some disease that needs fixing,” Buckingham said.

“I also want to be the nurse that my patients can feel comfortable talking to because the healing process is not just about how much medicine we give. It’s also the human aspect, just being there and talking to them and helping them through the process.”

— Photos by Anslee Wolfe and Sylvia Metzger

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