Virginia’s Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District covers five counties: Fauquier, Rappahannock, Culpeper, Madison and Orange. The students not only communicated public health information to residents in all five counties, but they also assisted wherever needed in connecting residents with county resources, from child care help to picking up groceries, in the event they were told to quarantine.
The nursing students’ primary responsibilities involved reaching out to community members in the five counties who had been exposed to positive COVID-19 cases, assessing their symptoms, providing education and asking about any other potential concerns. During slower times, faculty were able to offer instruction on public health, pharmacology and more. Students gained valuable experience by learning how best to educate others on health issues, assess needs faced by those contacts and gain a true understanding of how social determinants impact public health. Perhaps most importantly, they learned how to best communicate and interact with the public during a health crisis.
We know from studies that hands-on learning provides the greatest educational opportunity. While classroom instruction is necessary, being able to spend time in the field is extremely valuable and working alongside professionals during a crisis provides an invaluable life experience. The sad fact that this pandemic could be eclipsed by others in the future makes this work even more important.