Nursing students get real-world experience at free clinic

March 19, 2024
By: Rebecca Cross

The sun wasn’t yet up when five Worcester State nursing students reported for duty at Remote Area Medical’s (RAM’s) free health clinic in Willimantic, Conn., at 4:45 a.m. on Saturday, March 2. The pop-up clinic, with all medical equipment transported to the Windham Middle School on a repurposed NASCAR truck, provided vision, dental, and medical services at no cost to patients.

The Worcester State students, along with nursing instructor Carol McLaughlin and Associate Dean of Nursing Catherine Thomas, volunteered in triage on both Saturday and Sunday and put in 20 clinical hours.

Thomas had organized volunteering experiences with RAM for nursing students at another institution, so when she saw that RAM was planning a clinic only a little over an hour away from campus, taking a group of Worcester State students there made sense. “It’s imperative for students to see need at a large scale,” Thomas said.

That they did. Over the weekend, the clinic served 194 patients and provided care that was worth approximately $123,000.

As the first point of contact for individuals who have not had regular medical care, the students gathered patient health histories and also provided a friendly face. “It was important for us to make them feel welcome and calm,” said senior Kiara Dempsey. “While taking one patient’s blood pressure, she told me she thought it was going to be lower because I was doing such a good job making her feel safe here. Seeing people come into the triage nervous, and watching them calm down through the process and then watching them walk out with their painful tooth removed, a new pair of glasses, or having just received a physical was the best part of the entire experience.”

“In order to be a good provider you must understand the issues that your clients face in their daily lives,” said senior Deanna DeLorey, who plans to get a doctor of nursing practice in psychiatry after finishing her nursing degree at Worcester State. At the clinic, she said, “I got to understand exactly what underserved populations experience, through hearing their concerns and understanding what I could do for them to give them an optimal, realistic level of care.”

In nursing school we are taught so much about caring for people, that it was amazing to be able to actually put my skills to the test,” said junior Madison Ferrara. That wasn’t all the experience gave her. “This clinic impacted me by making me realize how big of a community is out there that needs our help and support medically. All the patients were super nice and it felt good knowing I was able to assist in helping them feel better.”

“The part of the clinic that impacted me the most was seeing how thankful the patients were to be seen,” said senior Hailey White. “This experience has definitely changed the way that I treat patients and communicate with them.”

Senior Christina Burri wanted to volunteer at the clinic because they are considering working with Nurses Without Borders. “I am always looking for ways to expand my understanding of the clients that I will encounter in my career,” they said. “This clinic allowed me to work with a diverse population, one that I felt I have not had much experience working with up until now. I was able to gain a better understanding of what underserved populations experience through the care I was able to provide to them.”

Thomas was thrilled with how the weekend went. “The students blew my mind and made me proud to be a nurse,” she said. She hopes to organize another volunteering experience with RAM for Worcester State students next year. “It’s a lot of work,” she said, “but I don’t mind a bit of it. Serving gives life meaning.”

Images courtesy of Catherine Thomas

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