Taylor Arrington is dreaming of a career in medicine when she’s older. Her hope of being a pediatrician prompted the eighth grader to join the Brandywine Lifesavers and to visit ChristianaCare for a firsthand look at health care. The new Brandywine School District program offers middle school students the chance to see for themselves what it’s like to care for patients as a nurse and be part of a life-saving team.
During a visit to Christiana Hospital on a recent afternoon, Arrington listened intently as caregivers gave an insider’s perspective on the role of acute care nurses in critical care, surgery, perioperative and other specialty care. She practiced inserting an IV on a training arm, handled skin staplers and scissors used in the operating room, and helped ventilate “Doug,” the critical care mannequin.
And she couldn’t hide her reaction during a presentation by Erica Harrell-Tompkins, MSN, RN, CWON, CCCN, and Amanda De Rocili, MSN, RN-BC, CWCN, COCN, CCCN, who work on the wound, ostomy and continence nursing team. As Harrell-Tompkins held up a plastic model of a foot with reddened ulcers and discolored, removable toes, Arrington squirmed at seeing the grisly effects of uncontrolled diabetes.
Still, she couldn’t look away.
“It was actually kind of cool to learn about,” she said.
Better than ‘Gray’s Anatomy’
About 30 students from Delaware’s Talley, Springer and P.S. duPont middle schools visited ChristianaCare in April as part of Brandywine Lifesavers. In addition to talking with the different nursing specialties, students—who had to write an essay and get letters from a parent and a teacher to be considered for the program—also had the chance to see nurses in action on different floors in the hospital.
The visit to the Newark campus was one of several field trips the group has taken this school year, along with visits to the University of Delaware, Delaware Division of Public Health and Beebe Medical Center.
Allowing students to investigate career possibilities up close expands their mindset and helps them see more opportunities than they originally might, said ChristianaCare’s Kamela Smith, M.Ed., program manager for youth development programming in the Office of Health Equity.
“Exposure equals expansion. You can’t pursue something you don’t know about,” said Smith, who helped organize the Brandywine Lifesavers’ visit to Christiana Hospital.
Student Samiyah Brown found out about the program from her Talley Middle School nurse Jacquelyn Kimball, MSN, RN. Nursing is one of several professions she’s considering and the Lifesavers program has made her think more about her future.
“I wanted to try it out to see what I want to do when I get older,” she said.
During the event, ChristianaCare’s Karen Brady, MSN, RN, CNOR, NPD-BC, nursing professional development team leader, and Ashley Oncay, MSN, RN, CNOR, NPD-BC, a nursing professional development specialist, kept a steady stream of student interest at their table as they showed hip implants, surgical screws, sponges, instruments and other surgical equipment. They hope programs like Brandywine Lifesavers will encourage more young people to consider a career in the operating room.
“We both have a passion for the operating room and wanted to share that passion with young students who have already expressed an interest in health care,” Oncay said.
Career goals, without barriers
Beth Mattey, MSN, RN, NCSN, FNASN, coordinator of School Health Services for Brandywine School District, and other Brandywine school nurses developed the program in partnership with the Delaware Nurses Action Coalition to jumpstart a nursing education and clinical pipeline by connecting with younger students to give them time to learn about potential careers in health care.
Brandywine Lifesavers was one of six programs selected nationwide for the Nursing Innovations Fund, an initiative of the AARP Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to strengthen nursing’s role in building a culture of health and promoting health equity.
ChristianaCare, Brandywine School District and the University of Delaware School of Nursing also contributed financial and organizational support.
The program also aims to inject needed diversity into nursing by focusing its attention on students from backgrounds that haven’t traditionally been represented in a profession that is 80% white and 90% female, according to national statistics.
“This is about the future of nursing, so we wanted to start a program for students who are young enough to be able to plan for a career. We want students to be aware of all the opportunities that are available to them,” Mattey said.
“We want them to see the passion for nursing and for them to realize they can be part of that.”
Seeing the possibilities
In speaking to the middle schoolers, Catherine Shull Fernald, DNP, RN, RNC-OB, NEA-BC, FACHE, chief nursing officer, Acute Care, for the Newark campus, talked about how her own interest in health care was sparked through visits to the emergency room as a child with her siblings when they got hurt playing outside.
She hopes the hands-on experience will encourage interested students to think about ways to mesh their education with volunteer and training opportunities in health care.
“I can tell you, when I was a kid, this kind of school trip was not an option. We visited museums, not hospitals,” Fernald said.
“It’s phenomenal to be able to expose kids to a program like this. We have an opportunity to reach more kids and introduce them to a whole career trajectory—and not necessarily just nursing. It could be any of the disciplines within the health care environment.”
During her visit student Shaylah Barnes said she is thinking about following the nursing pathway when she gets to high school. She’s watched enough episodes of the TV drama “Gray’s Anatomy” to recognize a lot of medical equipment, but getting the chance practice CPR on an infant mannequin and hold a pair of forceps herself helped her think about how she might respond one day as a nurse in a challenging situation.
“Watching this is fun,” Barnes. “I want to do it all.”