Western Carolina University – School of Nursing combines outreach, experiential learning, and community service


By Geoff Cantrell

Eye exams were often followed by a prescription for free glasses.

A makeshift clinic of folding chairs and folding tables, separated in clusters by curtains and canvas tents, has been set up inside a steel-beamed building in Clarkston, Georgia, a restful community in the shadow of Atlanta.

Clarkston is home to a large international refugee community, enough to sometimes be dubbed “Ellis Island of the South”. This is where, more often than not, the process of assimilation begins for these immigrants. New residents come with the hope of a new life.

They also come with basic human needs.

Parker with young people

Maddie Parker gets the height – and other stats – of a young patient.

This provides an opportunity for volunteers at the School of Nursing at Western Carolina University. For five nursing students, one faculty member and two alumni, the day was dedicated to helping Great Faith Vision, a national Christian missionary group, operate the pop-up medical clinic, which for the time being will offer health care. free views for young and old.

The building has become a functioning optometric office, staffed by three optometrists and 40 volunteers. There will be vision and glaucoma tests, lens prescriptions and provision of frames and lenses as needed, and other general health checks.

Cheryl Clark, adjunct assistant professor, helped organize the trip. “Today we’ll mostly see people from Thailand,” she said. “This community is home to a resettlement program that has accepted over 40,000 displaced people, from so many backgrounds and I am thinking of 50 different countries. Some speak English or have a glimpse of American culture, in all its forms. But many don’t.

“Anyway, a warm welcome and compassionate care is there for them. And for our nursing students, it’s another way to learn and grow professionally, giving them the kind of hands-on experience (that) Western is known for.

This is the second volunteer trip to Clarkston for Sydney Kinter from Rutherfordton. She kept busy recording personal information and statistics for each patient early in their process. “I didn’t realize how lucky I was until the first time here. The things I take for granted are not taken for granted in other cultures and staying healthy can be difficult for them,” Kinter said.

parker clark mabe

From left, nursing student Maddie Parker, assistant professor Cheryl Clark and nursing student Kirsten Mabe discuss patient treatment and planning.

Linnea Starr of Chapel Hill, a senior in her final semester and using mission work as a senior project, tests patients for glaucoma. She said she hoped to find a career in intensive care after graduation. “It’s a great way to learn how to work with different cultures and overcome communication barriers,” she said. “We use interpreters – and lots of hand gestures and smiles.”

Kirsten Mabe of Kernersville, a rising senior, asked patients about their medical histories and dutifully took their blood pressure and pulse. “I love working with children,” she said, while patiently and playfully holding the attention of a rambunctious 5-year-old. “I wish I could speak all their languages, be able to communicate quickly and easily with them, but seeing all those smiles says a lot.”

WCU’s school of nursing is nationally ranked, with undergraduate and graduate programs offered at the main campus in Cullowhee, at the Biltmore Park teaching site in Asheville, and online. For more information, go to nursing.wcu.edu.


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