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College of Nursing

MSC09 5350
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131

Phone: 1-800-690-0934

Nursing Students Promote Navajo Nation Primary Care Real-World Experience in Caring for the Underserved

February 2, 2017

By Luke Frank

At some stage early in everyone’s career there’s a jumping-off point that tests all that’s been learned in one’s chosen field, while developing new skills and strengthening confidence.

Twenty-four select UNM bachelors of science in nursing (BSN) students are preparing for a two-week plunge into clinical reality as part of a federal Health Resources and Services Administration grant to promote nurse education, practice, quality and retention on the Navajo Nation.

“Our nursing students will be stepping into their most challenging educational opportunity yet,” says Judy Liesveld, PhD, associate professor in the UNM College of Nursing and the grant’s principal investigator. “In these remote primary care settings, you use every scrap of knowledge you’ve acquired and get to apply some creative thinking to complex health issues.”

The program places BSN students from UNM and San Juan College at the Indian Health Service Unit in Chinle, Ariz., to provide care for underserved populations and other high-risk groups.

Liesveld has designed the program for students to experience primary care nursing in underserved communities, while building partnerships between the college and health clinics in the region. “Learning about a community and its health needs, and playing a part in improving health locally are wonderful opportunities and experiences,” she says.

The practicum enables two groups of 12 senior-level nursing students to spend two weeks each working with a preceptor in Chinle IHS primary care facilities. The students will be selected based on their academic performance and interest in serving the medically underserved in a community-based primary care setting.

The program seeks students in their final year of the BSN program at UNM and at San Juan College in Farmington, N.M. If selected, the students will complete nearly 100 hours of purely clinical work, while developing a health project deemed important by the Chinle community, such as an immunization education campaign or nutrition and exercise programs.

Practicum students and faculty also will receive cultural humility training to build cultural awareness when addressing the community’s health needs, challenges and opportunities.

At least six students who complete the initial practicum will be selected yearly to return to the Chinle IHS Unit for their capstone practicum – an additional 96 hours of clinical service in a rural primary care setting. Ideally, these nursing students will pursue their passion for working in primary care settings in underserved areas.

Chinle, a town of about 4,500 at the mouth of Canyon de Chelly, is about 230 miles from Albuquerque and 150 miles from Farmington, requiring an extended stay for the practicum, which creates a fully immersive experience. It was selected because of its primary care facilities and its proximity to UNM and San Juan College. Chinle IHS Unit nursing preceptors will be involved in creating clinical and community experiences for the students.

Nursing students may think they need to begin their careers working in a hospital, but this program highlights an alternative, Liesveld says.

“This program shows our students the personal and dynamic feel of primary-care community nursing as a career path,” she says. “We want to create a passion in our students to work in medically underserved areas where they become an important part of the community and can really have an impact.”

Principal Investigator: Judy Liesveld, PhD
Associate Professor, UNM College of Nursing

Grant: BSN Practicum with Navajo Indian Health Services

Grantor: Health Resources and Services Administration