University of Missouri–St. Louis nursing student Cassidy Kinkead didn’t just learn the basics of providing care during her clinical rotation at Delmar Gardens. She also got a history lesson.
Thanks to a favorite patient in the Alzheimer’s, Dementia and Memory Care unit of the senior living facility, learning about essential nursing fundamentals went hand in hand with learning about what it was like to be a fighter pilot during World War II.
Part of her Clinical Foundations of Nursing course at UMSL, Kinkead says the opportunity was the best student nursing experience she’s had so far – one she won’t ever forget.
It was also the kind of opportunity UMSL’s College of Nursing and Delmar Gardens had in mind when they joined forces a little over a year ago.
The two institutions teamed up for a shared double purpose. First, provide student nurses with the most thorough, professional training possible. And second, introduce them to the plethora of opportunity and need that exists for them in the world of senior care.
The hopeful end goal of the partnership is that, upon graduation, the students will be willing and prepared to help meet the needs of an increasingly larger population of elderly citizens.
According to Delmar Gardens Vice President Kathy Gilmore, the relationship is going beautifully.
“We feel the program has been a win-win-win for the residents, staff and students alike,” says Gilmore. “Our residents are enjoying the spirit and contagious energy that accompanies the UMSL students. And our staff can’t say enough about the quality of those students, coupled with their eagerness to learn and the mutual compassion they have for the seniors we have the privilege of serving.”
Gilmore and her staff, along with College of Nursing Dean Susan Dean-Baar, Undergraduate Clinical Coordinator Shawne Manies and other UMSL faculty, say their aim is to ensure that all students, like Kinkead, continue to have the kind of opportunities that both further nursing education and serve the St. Louis community at large.
Such opportunities are possible at Delmar Gardens because of the wide range of services its many locations offer – from assisted living to rehabilitation services, palliative and hospice care and more.
“It’s really a remarkable experience for our students,” says Manies. “They have the chance to work in these different environments that are both similar and different from hospital settings in many ways. These are state-of-the-art facilities, and the students are getting to do things – administer wound care and IV fluids – that once only happened in hospitals.”
Another benefit for the students is the chance to see and work alongside exemplary nurses in action.
“There was one nurse who treated me as an equal,” says Sarah Mehrle, a traditional BSN student who did a rotation at Delmar Gardens during the third semester of her program. “Whatever she did with a resident, she let me do. I got to help with procedures I’d never had the chance to help with before. She was amazing.”
Aside from the concrete skills they teach, Manies says the Delmar Gardens nurses are also great role models for the students because of the workload they carry.
“A lot of times in a hospital setting, nurses are working with five to seven patients – sometimes fewer depending on patient acuity,” says Manies. “At Delmar Gardens, the resident load is much greater and therefore so is the pace of the work. This pushes our students to learn about proper prioritization of care, and it also teaches them to work as part of a cohesive team.”
“One of the best lessons I learned,” says Mehrle, “is that you have to be ready for anything. You have to be willing to be available for everyone – patients and residents, fellow nurses, CNAs.”
When the partnership first began, only senior synthesis nursing students, those closest to graduation, were assigned to Delmar Gardens to complete their capstone clinical work. While that is still an option, as of fall 2016, beginning nursing students also have the chance – hence the experiences of students like Kinkead and Merhle, who are both finishing their junior year at UMSL.
The students go in groups for eight-hour shifts once a week during their nursing fundamentals clinic. Their UMSL professor remains on site during their shift and disperses them out to different areas based on resident and staff needs and student interest.
Kinkead volunteered for the Alzheimer’s unit she came to adore. And after a stellar experience with the lead nurse she worked alongside, she says she could definitely see herself working there in the future.
“I loved working with the staff,” says Kinkead. “They were so welcoming, and they work harder than I think many people realize. I honestly can’t think of a better place to learn basic skills than at Delmar Gardens.”
And beyond those basic skills, Kinkead adds, there’s the residents themselves.
“I was so honored to care for them,” she says. “Having someone instantly trust you, because of those red and white scrubs, to help them perform their daily living without even thinking twice about it? That was so humbling.”