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Free health fair was held at West Sacramento's Russian Baptist Church   SMU Nursing students Julie Morita, Hilary Otorowski, Emily Walker, Sara Schwartz

Nursing Students Host Health Fair For Eastern European Community

While most people were enjoying a three-day President's Day weekend hiking, gardening, or skiing, three dozen nursing students from the Samuel Merritt University (SMU) Sacramento Regional Learning Center (SRLC) spent their holiday weekend organizing a free community health fair for West Sacramento's underrepresented Slavic immigrant population.

Nearly a hundred Eastern Europeans, several from the former Soviet Union, attended the free health screenings after Sunday service at the Russian Baptist Church in West Sacramento.  The event was held in cooperation with a local primary clinic, Midtown Medical Center for Children and Families (MMC).  The goal of the health fair was to heighten awareness of common health problems among the City's underserved population. 

"I felt very proud to see how my cohort gave up their personal holiday time to attend the event," said Michelle Van Roekel, SMU nursing student in the Entry Level Master of Science in Nursing (ELMNS) program.  "Most of the students are entering their second year at the time of the fair, and were quite confident in using nursing skills learned throughout the curriculum for conducting health assessments of community members." 

"There are an estimated 150,000 Russian immigrants in the Sacramento region, with 52 Russian-language based churches," said Terry Deane Dauwalder, RN, Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), SMU assistant professor School of Nursing.  "The Midtown Medical Clinic is one of the first federally qualified health centers in the United States that is dedicated to serving the needs of the Eastern European immigrant community."

Nursing students from the ELMNS and the Accelerated Bachelors of Science in Nursing (ABSN) programs planned and staffed the event, supervised by SMU faculty FNPs.  There were 16 ELMSN students assessing blood pressure and blood glucose levels, three ELMSN students measuring height and weight for BMI, five ELMSN students who performed diabetic foot exams, and three ELMSN-FNP students helping with follow-up care and advanced assessment of patients.

Sacramento Regional Learning Center ABSN and ELMNS students

Sacramento Regional Learning Center ABSN and ELMNS students

"I was in motion almost the whole time," exclaimed Van Roekel who helped manage the station units.  "I made sure the students were stocked with supplies, and ensured that patients were being assessed as well as receiving follow-up care." 

According to Deane Dauwalder, SMU students are taught that one of the most important roles of a nurse is public education. "Teaching in the classroom is a great experience, but applying concepts in the field to those who need healthcare is magic.  Watching the students broaden their understanding of culture, disparities, and how they impact population health is an amazing experience."  

As ELMNS student Cherly Merwin explains, working with members from this community presented some health challenges.  "The challenges are language and cultural barriers, distrust of westernized medicine, medication compliance, low income, and access to healthcare.  We also recognized that this community develops hypertension and diabetes within five years of relocating to the United States."

"In addition, many people of this population do not trust American healthcare providers," adds Van Roekel.  "For all of these reasons they do not access healthcare until they are very ill.  In locating the health fair at the community church, we thought we could provide a link for the population to local healthcare providers.  Developing trust within the community was also an important goal of the fair."

Blood Pressure and Blood Sugar testing station

Blood Pressure and Blood Sugar testing staton

The free health fair focused on topics that are of usual concern to community health nurses such as hypertension, diabetes, stroke, healthy eating, adult immunizations, smoking cessation and community-acquired bacterial infections.  Those who attended received individual care from SMU student nurses, with interpreters to assist in communicating information about how to do basic self-care related to their findings.  The patients also received a written summary of the assessment findings, including suggested resource lists providing information about where to get affordable healthcare available in the Russian language.  

The event not only provided primary care services to the community, but it was also a learning experience for the nursing students in what's involved in putting on a community health fair, and getting the experience of talking to the public and answering their questions.

"I learned that when going outside of your own ethnic and language comfort zone that it is tremendously important to partner with credible representation of that ethnic group," said Merwin.  "Partnering with representatives from the Russian Baptist Church for translation of health education information from English to Russian was key to the success of the fair."

"Watching the students learn how to be good nurses as they apply all the principles they have been taught is a highlight in my [teaching] life," said Deane Dauwalder.

More than a hundred people came to the free health fair in West Sacramento
Community member getting a check up

Did You Know...

Within the first semester at SMU School of Nursing, students in the ELMNS program are required to take community health theory courses such as N524/524L Health Assessment and  N570/570L Community Health before they graduate, which focuses on teaching students about the foundations of providing population healthcare for those with health disparities.

"During the course, the RN students also learn about social determinants of health," explains Deane Dauwalder. "As a result of being placed in clinical sites that have populations with health disparities, the students chose to provide the health fair for the Russian and Slavic immigrants community of Sacramento."

"We at Midtown Medical Center for Children and Families are grateful for the working/teaching relationship we have with Samuel Merritt University students, "says Robert Reich, MCC Human Resource Director.  "The clinics have the benefit of students working with our patients that helps us, and we are able to provide practical experience for them. "