From their vantage point behind the nursing outreach table at the Salvation Army, 31 year-old Cheralynne Kennedy and 25 year-old Natalie Weeks witness the pain and struggle that daily life holds for the marginalized citizens of Nelson. Cheralynne and Natalie are third year nursing students at Selkirk and part of the team of five that runs the Selkirk College Nursing Student Street Outreach Project.
“We treat a broad range of people, not necessarily whom you might expect. They are not all homeless or drug-addicted. They are mainly young and middle-aged men whose lives have taken a turn for the worse. Most clients have incredible obstacles to overcome, such as mental and physical health barriers,” explains Natalie.
Each Wednesday and Thursday throughout winter, two nursing students bring street nursing to Baker and Vernon Streets. You can spot them carrying labeled backpacks filled with basic supplies to give away. Nursing students also host an outreach table at five social service agencies throughout the day, such as the Salvation Army and Stepping Stones for Success.
Vitamins, basic toiletries, condoms and sometimes a needle disposal jar are all part of the outreach service. Everything is free. Cheralynne and Natalie dispense health information about colds, flus, HIV and Hepatitis along with first aid treatments, foot care and flu shots. Often people want to talk about their medications or need help being referred to doctors and other health practitioners.
“One client was very nervous about going to his doctor’s appointment so one of us accompanied him to the appointment for support. He probably wouldn’t have gone otherwise,” says Natalie.
Street nursing services clearly benefit community health, but what does it give nursing students?
“When nursing students treat people in their own environments, instead of in a clinic or hospital setting, they gain a clear understanding of the social and economic factors that determine health,” says Selkirk College Nursing Instructor Randy Janzen. “This first-hand knowledge will serve them well in their nursing careers - in any setting they choose to work in.”
Almost all nurses working in the region were educated through Selkirk’s nursing program. The program is very attractive to local residents because graduates receive a full nursing degree from the University of Victoria, without ever leaving the Kootenays.
There are currently 32 students in third year and the focus for the year is on community nursing. Students usually find this part of their education both emotionally demanding and spiritually satisfying.
“It’s really hard to witness the stress and struggles of marginalized people … seeing how real it is and how they try. But it’s also rewarding knowing I’m connecting with people who often feel disconnected. Linking them to existing health services they weren’t aware of empowers them to improve their lives,” says Cheralynne. “I want to work in street nursing when I graduate. It feels right.”
First published on January 14, 2009