Developing Civically Engaged Nursing Student Leaders Through Mentoring and Community Engagement
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Session presented on Friday, September 26, 2014: Purpose: Primary care and health promotion, with a community-based orientation, is the driving force of healthcare reform. The Institute of Medicines 2010 report on the future of nursing recognizes the need for strong and capable leadership if the vision for transforming healthcare is to be realized and emphasizes the need to provide student nurses with opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills to lead change. Nursing students rarely enter programs of nursing with strong leadership skills. The education and development of students as leaders is a central purpose of baccalaureate nursing programs. An essential element of being a strong nurse leader is patient advocacy, which requires nurse leaders to speak up with clarity, confidence and knowledge and often take a risk. To a leader, the most important thing is to provide the best care possible for the patient or community. Developing nurse leaders requires teaching students to not just identify a problem but to do something about it and justify what needs to be done. Community engagement activities involving nursing students allows faculty to mentor students to develop effective leadership skills. This presentation will discuss how course faculty have used community engagement to provide students meaningful opportunities to develop as nurse leaders, develop an appreciation for people from diverse backgrounds, apply knowledge gained in the classroom to real-world settings, and gain an increased knowledge of research and evidence-based practice through clinical experiences and the community assessment project. Methods: Community engagement refers to research or creative activities, teaching, and service activities that are collaboratively undertaken by faculty members with community partners, staff, and/or students through processes that exemplify reciprocity in partnerships and public purposes. Through community engagement, students gain increased opportunities to apply classroom learning in real-world settings, demonstrate a commitment to involved citizenship, enhance their appreciation of people from diverse backgrounds, and increase their sense of global awareness. Typically, community engagement is incorporated into a course or series of courses by way of a project that has both learning and community action goals. This project is designed via collaboration between faculty and community partners, such as non-governmental organizations or government agencies. The project asks students to apply course content to community-based activities. This gives students experiential opportunities to learn in real world contexts and develop skills of community engagement, while affording community partners opportunities to address significant needs. Results: The goals of the Community Health nursing course at The University of Alabama are to prepare students to effectively develop and deliver community-based health promotion programs. Course faculty have worked to develop clinical experiences and a community assessment project that will provide students with opportunities to serve rural, vulnerable, and/or underserved populations while developing characteristics of effective leaders, such as good communication and advocacy skills. Through this project, the needs of the community are met, the learning goals of the students are achieved, and the college and university mission is accomplished. Conclusions: Community engagement is an effective means of providing BSN nursing students with the opportunity to apply theoretical content to real-world settings while also providing needed services to the community partners they serve. In addition, these experiences allow students to develop characteristics of successful nurse leaders, such as good communication skills, advocacy skills, and the ability to work with individuals from diverse backgrounds.