The Connell School of Nursing (CSON) will be conducting wellness clinics from April 19 to 23 in Aroostook County, Maine. Nursing students will also be conducting home visits, setting up vaccine clinics, conducting COVID-19 testing, and assisting in a blood drive.
Nineteen nursing students—who were initially planning to serve in Jamaica and Chile—alongside five nurse practitioner students and faculty will be traveling to Presque Isle, Caribou, Houlton, and Madawaska, and setting up the wellness clinics in churches, according to clinical assistant professor Donna Cullinan.
The wellness clinics will feature tables on pain management, nutrition, domestic violence and safe plans, women’s health, mental health, substance abuse, and more, Cullinan said.
“BC being a Jesuit Catholic University, we are in alignment with how we treat the whole person from health of their body to spiritual health and mental health issues,” Cullinan said.
The students will also have the opportunity to use triage to allow community members to convey their health needs, according to Maggie Shea, CSON ’21. The nurse practitioner students will diagnose problems and give non-prescription medicine. Students will also supply recipes, gift cards, and various health supplies to community members.
Kelly Day, director of volunteer services at Catholic Charities Maine, said that this has been a collaborative effort between many members of CSON, Catholic Charities, Maine Public Health Nursing, Cary Medical Center, and Holy Rosary Parish.
“It’s a really great team effort at the health fairs,” Day said. “There’s going to be all kinds of great things going on.”
Cullinan, who has been taking students to Haiti for over 10 years, was planning a trip to Jamaica this year, but was unable to do so because she said Jamaica did not want people to enter who were not vaccinated for COVID-19.
Still, Cullinan wanted the nursing students to have an experience serving in under-resourced areas. After reaching out to Catholic Charities and Maine Public Health, Cullinan and some colleagues have been meeting with the organizations weekly to organize the trip.
“We’ve formed this really great partnership, and we’re modeling it with some adaptations to what we have done for years in Haiti,” Cullinan said.
Cullinan said Aroostook County is a great place to serve because the students will have the opportunity to work with people in an under-resourced area.
“They have great need,” Cullinan said. “I think it’s a really rural area, there’s a lot of poor there that don’t have access to cars and medical help. So that’s what we were looking for.”
Day said she is excited for the nursing students to serve the community and is looking forward to the communities’ responses.
“I think it’s gonna be great because we have our own medical facilities in Maine, but it’s kind of nice to have people that are studying at Boston College come up, because they’ll have a whole different way of looking at things, or maybe a whole different skill set that they can share with the people in northern Maine,” Day said.
Shea, who was initially going to Jamaica, said this trip will be a great learning experience.
“[W]e also all have experience in these amazing hospitals here but that have so many resources and that’s not really what health looks like for everyone,” Shea said. “So, it’ll be a really educational experience, I think, to be in a place where that isn’t the norm.”
Erin McMahon, a nursing student who was set to go on the Chile trip, said she is excited about serving in Aroostook County and experiencing community health nursing.
“I think it’s gonna be a really amazing opportunity to become immersed into a new community and just like really get a feel for what public health and community health nursing is like,” McMahon, CSON ’21, said.
Jeffrey Heredia, CSON ’21, said that he is excited for the opportunity to grow as a nursing student.
“I’m also excited to learn both as a nursing student and in my role to become a professional nurse,” Heredia said. “I think it’s going to give me the skills and assets that I would need to keep representing and keep serving those communities in need, which is my goal in life.”
CSON Dean Susan Gennaro said that conducting wellness clinics is extremely important to health promotion.
“We’re very interested in what our nursing staff can do to help improve health and health promotion,” Gennaro said. “Wellness clinics are a great thing. You shouldn’t always wait until people are sick.”
Day said that Catholic Charities has been very supportive of the work the nursing students will be doing and will be making dinners for the nursing students every night of the trip.
Cullinan is grateful for the generosity of the parishioners and the service the nursing students will be providing.
“The parishioners … could not be more hospitable and grateful for what we’re doing.” Cullinan said. “I feel like they’re helping us out for my students to meet the goals of population health and have an experience, and I think they feel the same way, but we’re just being so generous in what we’re supplying and doing so it’s like a win-win for everybody.”
Gennaro said that developing a long-lasting relationship with the communities in Maine is especially important for the students during this trip.
“We’re very interested in sustainable relationships and working with populations that help our students to learn, but also where possible, help with the mission of Boston College being men and women for others and really trying to decrease disparities,” Gennaro said.
As a senior, Shea is excited to apply what she’s learned through her education to the Maine community.
“I think it will be a really great way to take like four years of nursing education to a community,” Shea said.
Being able to serve others in Maine is also a great way to align with the Jesuit values of BC, McMahon said.
“I think it’s like a really great way to put others before yourself, kind of like aligning with Jesuit values and everything like that,” McMahon said. “So I think it’s going to be really interesting, and I’m going to learn a lot from it for sure.”
Day said that the nursing students are conducting the wellness clinics during National Volunteer Recognition Week, which promotes the mission of giving a helping hand.
“That’s really what Catholic Charities parish social ministry wants to do,” Day said. “They do outreach to the communities that we serve, and we try to help any of the parishes that we can with any projects and this is just one of those big projects that is really getting out there to seniors, adults, kids, anyone that might need help.”
Cullinan hopes her nursing students learn to always care for people around them, not just on service trips like this one but in their everyday lives.
“Students are lucky to go to Boston College and experience what we have and what we have to give,” Cullinan said. “And my hope is that they may not always go to Maine or Jamaica or Haiti every year, but that forever they will take care of people in their neighborhood by checking on the woman next door or volunteering in other capacities and to always give back, especially with their knowledge of health and everything.”
Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor