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Expanding Horizons One Nurse at a Time

Thursday, Mar 20, 2014

An exchange program between Doylestown Hospital and Native American nursing students is meant to open eyes and open doors.

The hospitals where these nursing students do their clinical rotations don't have cath labs to treat heart attack. The IV pumps are not the latest technology. The emergency room is tiny.

Coming to Doylestown Hospital is an integral part of expanding the horizons for these Native American students.

"Doylestown has several things I haven't seen at my hospital. These are things I could implement there. I can see this being a great help," said Sheldon Lester, a third semester nursing student who lives in Kagetoh, Arizona, Navajo Nation.

Through the Bucks County-based Americans for Native Americans (ANA), six University of New Mexico - Gallup nursing students are visiting Doylestown Hospital this week for clinical and cultural learning. They are rotating through the cath lab, ICU, Emergency Department and VIA Maternity Center.

ANA is an all-volunteer, non-profit group founded by Connie and the late Bill Eastburn of Doylestown in 1991. Initial efforts that focused on meeting immediate needs, like collecting blankets and clothing, have expanded to include educating Native Americans to provide medical care in their own communities.

Doylestown Hospital has partnered with ANA in the nursing exchange program. Barbara Taubenberger, RN, MSN, CEN, director of Emergency Services at Doylestown Hospital, visited New Mexico in October and helped organize the nursing students' trip this week.

"We hope to get more people who would not usually become students to go back to school. The goal is to help them to provide culturally-competent care," said Barbara.

Native Americans interested in becoming nurses face many challenges, including financial and educational barriers. Some students come from homes that have no running water or electricity. Many of them provide key financial support to their families, so attending school and not working is a hardship.

Michelle Kellywood-Yazzie, RN, MSN is accompanying the students this week. She is one of few Native Americans with an advanced nursing degree. A community leader and member of the Dine/Navajo Nation, Michelle is focusing her research on patient education and disease prevention. She talked about the dire need for Native American nurses in these communities.

About 44% of children in the Navajo Nation live in poverty.

"The lack of school nurses is a big problem," said Michelle. "There may be a 'health technician' in a school, but that person usually has no medical background." She gave an example of one such layperson who was unsure of how to administer insulin for a diabetic child.

Michelle recently gave a presentation at Doylestown Hospital outlining several key aspects of Navajo culture and how they impact healthcare.

Third semester student Letecia Williams elaborated, "we develop our own unique style of care. We treat patients as if they were our own relatives. Kinship is an important part of our philosophy of care." On her second day at Doylestown Hospital, she and another student watched a delivery in the maternity center. Letecia, who grew up on the Navajo reservation, hopes to return and specialize in psychiatric nursing to address the high rate of alcoholism.

Tonia Martin, third semester student and mother of two, said she is thankful for the opportunity to learn at Doylestown. "This takes us out of our comfort zone. It opens up our eyes."

"We can take this knowledge back home," added fourth-semester student Gwen Sorrell.

All the students spoke about how welcoming the staff at Doylestown Hospital is, and how willing they are to help them learn.

The ultimate goal is to encourage these students to continue on for advanced degrees and have a real impact on the health of Native Americans. ANA helps with scholarships and fees for the NCLEX entrance exams.

Barbara and Michelle are planning a trip for Doylestown Hospital nurses to New Mexico in September. The group will learn about Native American culture and participate in community service projects, including health screenings for students at the Baca/Dlo Yazhi Community School.

The ANA hopes to make the exchange an annual program.

Visit the ANA's website to learn more about this initiative or ways you can help.

About Doylestown Health

Doylestown Health is a comprehensive healthcare system of inpatient, outpatient and wellness education services connected to meet the health needs of all members of the  local and regional community. Doylestown Hospital, the flagship to Doylestown Health has 232 beds and a Medical Staff of more than 435 physicians in over 50 specialties. An independent nonprofit health system, Doylestown Health is dedicated to providing innovative, patient-centered care for all ages.

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