Washington, DC—A new study out of Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS) indicates that undergraduate nursing students may benefit—as individuals and future clinicians—from having their professors incorporate into coursework topics related to health and mental health issues affecting college-age students.
Lead author Edilma Yearwood, Ph.D., PMHCNS-BC, FAAN, associate professor of nursing, and Joan B. Riley, MS, MSN, FNP-BC, assistant professor of human science and nursing, wrote the paper, “Curriculum Infusion to Promote Nursing Student Well-Being,” which appeared online April 29 in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.
“In their regular coursework, our nursing students focus on the health and mental health of patients,” Yearwood said. “What we’ve done here is to make students aware of how some of these issues affect them and their peers during college. We tried to determine whether this pedagogical approach made students more self-reflective, as well as community-minded, engaged citizens.”
This study occurred during a two-year period—from 2006 to 2008—and included 159 undergraduate nursing majors at Georgetown enrolled in several required nursing courses. It took place as part of the national “Bringing Theory to Practice” (BTtoP) project, sponsored by the Charles Engelhard Foundation in partnership with the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Georgetown University is one of several universities participating in the BTtoP project, which advocates for the academic community’s support of engaged learning and promotes the relationship of such learning to student health and well-being and civic development.
Riley is a campus leader on the BTtoP project, and Yearwood is a project fellow.
“The themes found in this study suggest that our students experienced a variety of feelings and needs during their engagement with the BTtoP courses,” the authors said. “These included isolation, shock and anger, taking time, awareness and valuing.”
• “Isolation” involved students who felt physically apart from others and disconnected from thinking about certain issues.
• “Shock and anger” dealt with the students’ reaction to learning about the prevalence of mental health and stress-related issues affecting students on college campuses.
• “Taking time” and “awareness” focused on the students’ emerging understanding of these health issues and growing sensitivity to their own needs and those of their peers.
• Finally, “valuing” encompassed viewing the campus as community, realizing that educators can be a source of support, and acknowledging the importance of self-care.
“Course evaluations and lively classroom discussions indicated that the nursing students who participated appreciated having a forum in which to learn about and discuss issues that they encountered on campus and were dealing with personally as college students,” the authors said.
“The educators managed to provide a safe classroom environment, decreased the distance between educators and students, and helped the students realize that, in addition to being concerned about academic content, educators were committed to a relationship with students that valued their self-care,” they added.
The authors also noted that students developed a new level of comfort around the issues and empathy toward peers and patients who may be struggling.
“Many found some of the discussions sobering, but added that the value of the in class experience addressing these common concerns was also reassuring and supportive,” the authors said. “Students reported that due to the curriculum infusion experience, they were better able to use assessment instruments effectively with patients, and generally felt more comfortable discussing personal wellness issues of patients in the clinical arena.”
The authors, while noting the promise of such findings for a new approach to education, indicated some important limitations from their study.
“Participants in this study were nursing students enrolled in the same undergraduate program on the same campus and attending classes that were included in the project,” the said. “Therefore the findings are specific to this population and cannot be generalized to nursing students on other campuses, nonnursing students or students not participating in this pedagogy,” the said.
The study was funded by the Bringing Theory to Practice (BTtoP) project, which has Institutional Review Board approval for Georgetown University’s campus. The authors report no conflicts of interest.
About the School of Nursing & Health Studies
Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies—a part of Georgetown University Medical Center—translates science into outcomes that benefit the public’s health. NHS lives its mission “to improve the health and well being of all people” through innovative educational and research programs. The school houses a multi-million dollar research portfolio and includes the Departments of Health Systems Administration, Human Science, International Health, and Nursing, as well as the Center on Health and Education and—in partnership with Georgetown University Law Center—the Linda and Timothy O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.
About Georgetown University Medical Center
Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through Georgetown’s affiliation with MedStar Health). GUMC’s mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis — or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and Health Studies, both nationally ranked, the world-renowned Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO), home to 60 percent of the university’s sponsored research funding.