A&M-Corpus Christi Nursing Students Assist Northside Residents via the Garcia Center

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Final semester nursing students at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi are using what they’ve learned throughout their entire college career to make a difference in the Coastal Bend.

Through the NURS 4660 - Nursing Care of Community Health Clients course, they provided educational outreach and health care assistance to Coastal Bend community members. These Islanders, who were divided into groups of 10 students, achieved this by collaborating with local senior centers, Corpus Christi ISD, Port Aransas ISD, and the Antonio E. Garcia Arts & Education Center, a Texas A&M-Corpus Christi affiliate.

“I hope that through this course, students will learn to always think about their patient’s life as a whole – economic and educational background, culture, and community,” said Leigh Shaver, Clinical Assistant Professor in the College of Nursing & Health Sciences. “No matter where they work after graduation, I want them to consider how these aspects could have possibly impacted what they’re seeing, so they can have greater empathy for their patients.”  

Each group began their project by collecting information on the area surrounding their assigned organization. They interviewed city government officials like the mayor and city council members, as well as local school officials, places of worship, and even the media to gain a holistic perspective of the community. The groups looked online to gather demographic information about the area’s health, population, languages, educational backgrounds, and income levels. Students also drove through their community to locate resources and to observe what stood out about the residents and local environment.

“What hit me the hardest in assessing the community was seeing the level of poverty that exists here in Corpus Christi and in the United States,” said Whitney Andress, graduating senior with a nursing major and minor in psychology, whose group worked with the Garcia Center. “The standard of living is not what you would expect, which is sad because they don’t know how to obtain help. Getting them resources they need is one goal of this course.”

After observing the general community, groups split into five pairs with each pair of students working with a family to help meet their unique needs. The assistance provided was based on what each family felt would be most beneficial to their circumstances. This could range from explaining difficult medications, discussing child care resources, locating vaccination schedules, or providing information about going to college – as, according to Shaver, education is closely tied to better long-term health outcomes.

“These families end up asking us more questions than they might ask their doctor because we feel more relatable to them and they aren’t scared we’ll get mad at them for not being immunized,” said Andress, Senior Representative for Dean Hoff’s Student Nursing and Health Sciences Advisory Board and Treasurer for the Student Nurses Association. “That’s one way we are able to make a big impact on their lives; by educating them on issues they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about in any other way.”

The groups also hosted two after-school programs during the semester for children at their respective organizations. During the sessions, nursing students presented on health-related topics such as hand-washing, stranger danger, oral hygiene, alternate snack choices, and bullying.

“We want to plant seeds – they each have their own body and have to take care of it because they only get one body for their whole life,” said Shaver. “We also want to get children excited about their health because then they’ll take that home to the rest of their family, which could cause a ripple of positive movement.”

After collecting data and discovering the main health issues that exist in the community, the students create a report and broad intervention plan. One way students execute their intervention plan is through the Community Health Fair hosted by nursing students at the Garcia Center. They participate in the fair, choose the programming, and schedule presenters. At the end of the semester, students present their reports to classmates, nursing faculty, and respective organization members.

“It’s important for us to have the University’s support because it allows the community to access resources they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. This also provides students with service-learning opportunities by immersing them into real-life scenarios,” said Juan Sebastian Garzon, Director of the Garcia Center. “The nursing students have made a difference for many of the families we serve, and they’ve become role models to the children from our arts after-school program.”

This summer, the Nursing Care of Community Health Clients course will deliver two exciting additions. For the first time, two groups of Islander students will conduct a study abroad clinical at the Soltis Center in Costa Rica. Nursing students will also have the opportunity to complete this course at Camp CAMP (Children’s Association for Maximum Potential), a summer away experience for children and adults with developmental disabilities.

"Experiential clinical learning opportunities provide prelicensure nursing students the opportunity to “practice” the expanding role of nurses while improving the health of individuals and communities outside of traditional health care settings," says Dr. Julie Hoff, Dean of the College of Nursing & Health Sciences.