UNCC nursing students gain experience in the field as part of CCPGM’s inaugural shadow program. 

By Christopher Sardelli

Self-management, collaboration and connecting patients to resources were just some of the topics that had nursing student Logan Lamb nodding emphatically from a crowd of her fellow students on Dec. 5.

Lamb, 22, who is in the final year of her nursing program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, joined with 47 other students earlier this month to ask questions and hear answers from leadership at Community Care Partners of Greater Mecklenburg. The students, all part of the same Community Health Nursing class, had spent the previous six weeks participating in an inaugural, and innovative, nurse shadow program at CCPGM and gathered for a debrief.

As part of the program, students were paired with CCPGM care managers, QI specialists, clinical pharmacists and other employees to see the day-to-day workings of the community health-focused company.

Lamb said the program was a perfect way to expand her horizons in her chosen field of pediatrics. She was paired with Pediatric Program Manager Beth Burton.

“Pediatrics is one of my biggest passions. Beth let me go on home visits and I got to do Motivational Interviewing,” Lamb said “It was cool to see how the care managers partnered together to incorporate all the aspects of CCNC. Seeing pharmacy and social workers be advocates for the patients as well was really neat.”

She appreciated learning what happens to patients once they are outside of a hospital setting.

“It’s eye-opening how many problems there are to address,” she said. “I got to see things from the patient’s perspective and whether or not they can get the resources they need…Shadowing Beth showed me the best ways to help patients and how to identify barriers to receiving healthcare.”

For fellow student Emily Haass, 22, the shadow program was equally enlightening.

“Just seeing how secluded and protected we are in a hospital facility versus coming out here into the community. You really have to learn how to be on the patient’s terms,” Haass said. “I never thought about that before I came here. In medical school, they don’t really teach you about asking the patient if they have the resources they need, such as ‘can you drive to your doctor?’

“As a nurse, you don’t automatically think about whether the patient has air conditioning at home, or whether they can drive to the pharmacy. I feel like now I can prepare for those questions on my side since I’ve been to this side,” she said.

The Indian Trail native said the community aspect of the role was a complete change of pace. Her previous semesters have been spent in Carolina Healthcare System or Novant hospital facilities.

“After shadowing, I see that the biggest challenge is knowing how to get resources for the patients, how to connect them to things like transportation or social services,” Haass said. “I got to see how I should take advantage of being in a hospital and respect the people who do home healthcare and for the case managers and nurses. They have an even harder job than being in the hospital because you have to search for your resources. In the hospital, you are in more of a bubble and have resources at hand.”

Haass’ preceptor, CCPGM Maternal/Child QI Coordinator Lacey Marolf, said the shadow program helped broaden the student’s perspective.

“I remember her saying in the first week that in the community the patients have all the control, but in the hospital you can give them their medicine and take them for testing, so the medical staff has all the control. She said it was interesting that in community healthcare, the care manager has to be on the patient’s terms,” Marolf said.

Sitting nearby was student Tara Mekosh, 22, who shadowed with CCPGM care manager Robin Ingram in Anson County. She agreed the program changed how she relates with patients.

“I learned a lot about the struggles patients go through and what their obstacles are. There were some patients we worked with who have to travel at least 20 miles to get to their doctor. A lot of them have medical complications that makes transportation difficult,” she said. “This experience was good for me to learn what they go through.”

CCPGM Clinical Pharmacist Rosalyn McCormick worked with two shadow students, both of whom graduate this month. She said both also learned a lot in terms of working with patients.

“I think for both, this experience will serve them well for the journey ahead and they will be stronger nurses because of it,” McCormick said. “It was a good experience and I feel like I learned something from them too. The important lesson they learned is having empathy for patients. If you don’t have empathy or humility, you don’t have anything.”

‘A positive experience’

Wendy Neustrup, lecturer for the UNCC School of Nursing and lead faculty for the Community Health Nursing class, had considered the shadow program with CCPGM for a few years before finally agreeing to partner with the community health organization. She said CCPGM’s focus was a good fit for her class, which focuses on care management of diverse populations within communities and risk identification for patients.

“Our partnership with CCPGM sounded like a good connection. I was hopeful about the connection because we believe the focus of healthcare in the future will be in the community,” Neustrup said. “We need the students to be aware that there are job opportunities out there in this field.”

With a background in community healthcare, Neustrup felt it was important her nursing students see what life is like for patients once they leave the hospital.

“I’ve done home health care before and worked in the community, so I understand the poverty that is out there. I don’t think some of the students understand that,” she said.

She said the first semester was a success, though based on feedback from students and preceptors, she hopes future years of the program will provide students with more learning experiences in the community.

“I would like there to be more home health experiences, but overall it was a positive experience for them,” she said.

CCPGM Director Anita Schambach had been actively pursuing the partnership with UNCC’s School of Nursing for the last five years. Everything finally fell into place this semester, she said.

“Value-based care is coming more to the forefront and people are starting to understand what our program does. We were finally able to partner with UNCC and It’s been a learning experience for all of us. We had 48 students, so we all signed on to be preceptors,” she said.

Having listened to reactions and questions from the students at the Q&A panel earlier this month, Schambach has some ideas for how to adjust the program in future semesters.

“Next time, we want to standardize the experience a little more because it depended on who the preceptor was, as to what experience the student received,” she said. “We need to reduce the variations in the program. For the most part, though, we opened up a big door for the nurses and from that perspective it was very successful.

“I think the panel discussion showed the students the scope and breadth of what we do here. It was great to have that panel and hear the questions that arose out of the experience,” she said.

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