While the classroom provides an excellent foundation of knowledge for today’s students, sometimes real-world experience is the best learning tool.
And for today’s nurses, there is no better learning tool than practicing nursing in the public health arena, according to Nancy Ahrens, RN, MSN, CCRN, coordinator of the Lakeshore Area BSN Completion Program. The program, which is offered by UW Oshkosh, is a collaborative effort of the University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc, University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan and Lakeshore Technical College (LTC).
The local program allows place-bound working nurses in Manitowoc and Sheboygan counties to complete their bachelor’s degree in nursing without having to relocate or travel a great distance to attend classes.
Students in the BSN Completion Program can achieve this real-world experience through a partnership with Manitowoc County Health Department. Ahrens has been able to place many of her students with Public Health programs, which have offered them new skills and experiences.
“The Public Health clinical experience is a very important part of the BSN program, and it adds to the global perspective in the field of nursing,” Ahrens said. “The students deal more with populations, and less with one-on-one patient settings, which is typically seen in nursing.”
Lakeshore Area BSN students working in the Manitowoc County Health Department have the opportunity to participate in virtually any program provided by the agency, such as mom/baby home visits, infectious disease follow-up and case management, hotel, restaurant and environmental inspections, immunization programs, tobacco programming and women, infants and children nutrition programs. BSN students are also placed in programs in Sheboygan and Calumet counties.
In their clinical experience at the Manitowoc County Health Department, students shadowed various workers such as nurses, environmental specialists and nutritionists, according to Amy Wergin, RN, BSN, Manitowoc County Director of Public Health Nursing. They also completed special projects, some of which included hand-washing education for children, outreach supporting healthy, smoke-free air, and promoting recreational waters for families with disabilities.
“We want students to learn about what Public Health Nursing is, and give them experience in the variety of areas it covers,” said Wergin. The experience follows the department's mission: “to protect and promote the health of the people of Manitowoc County.” “We hope that these students incorporate these skills and lessons beyond the clinical setting and perhaps even pursue Public Health Nursing as their specialty.”
For BSN student and registered nurse Lori Hagen, the Public Health experience was an eye-opening one.
“I was really surprised by the wide variety of areas public health nursing involves,” Hagen noted. “I participated in everything from immunization clinics and jail nursing to car seat safety checks and teen-mom visits.” Hagen, who works as a registered nurse at Aurora Medical Center in Two Rivers, said that she especially enjoyed jail nursing.
“I also became very aware of the importance of Public Health in the community,” Hagen adds. “The public health department is the only resource available to some citizens.”
The Public Health setting is the perfect place for BSN students to gain practical experience, Ahrens added, since Public Health nurses are required by state statutes to hold a Bachelor's of Nursing, and many times these practical experiences spark an interest that leads to a life-long career in the Public Health field.
“The opportunity that the Manitowoc Public Health Department has given the students is that it adds another perspective to their nursing knowledge,” Ahrens said. “The experience gives the students an understanding of resources available to their patients regardless of where they work and what they do. Public health nursing is an essential part of our community, which is not always recognized for the contributions they make to society as a whole.”
The second full year of the Lakeshore Area BSN Program kicked off this fall. Classes rotate among the three participating campuses, with nursing classes offered at UW-Sheboygan for the fall 2006 semester. Spring semester classes will take place at Lakeshore Technical College.
For more information on the program: