URI nursing students spend community clinical rounds educating homeless, senior citizens

KINGSTON, R.I. – December 28, 2015 – When Stefanie Histcherich (Woodcliff Lake, N.J), Liz Pereira (Wallingford, Conn.) and Ali Hartman (Cranston, R.I.), all seniors in URI’s nursing program, first stepped into the Welcome House of South County in Wakefield, they were nervous.

“You could definitely say I was overwhelmed,” said Hartman. “I had a very close-minded view of what homelessness was. But what I’ve learned about homelessness is that it can be anyone—your uncle, your high school math teacher, or even the person sitting next to you at the doctor’s office.”

The three students completed their fall semester’s clinical round at the Welcome House, a homeless shelter that helps people get back on their feet by encouraging them to save money and seek jobs if they are unemployed.

Hitscherich agrees with Hartman’s sentiments: “Every first day of clinical, you get nervous and even anxious since you don’t know what to expect. When we got to the Welcome House, we felt a little lost. There was so much going on around us and we didn’t know how to fit into the daily routine.”

After studying the Welcome House’s population and indentifying issues, the three students developed a series of presentations addressing topics like personal hygiene and how to dress for a job interview. They presented their lessons every Thursday during the shelter’s public soup kitchen. At first, they felt like they were imposing on the guests’ lunchtime.

“As we were presenting, people were getting up to get food, squeezing past us to get to the cabinet behind us or even asking for forks in the middle of the presentation,” said Pereira. “It’s one of the most intimidating experiences you can ever have.”

That was, until after their first presentation, when guests began approaching the students and asking questions about how to implement the students’ suggestions in their lives.

“We realized we weren’t just presenting to a room of people eating lunch,” said Hitscherich. “We presented to a room of people who were listening.”

Joe Dziobek, executive director of the Welcome House said, “I definitely think they were learning. The proof is in the pudding—when the students did their flu clinic, people who weren’t staying in the shelter got their flu shots, and pretty much everyone in the shelter got their flu shots.”

He said the residents looked forward to seeing the students, often asking if the students were going to be coming to the shelter on a given day. “I give the students a lot of credit,” he said. “Their commitment was there.”

“On our last day they told us they’d miss their “lunchtime show,” said Hartman. “It was sad leaving. We’re going to miss the guests and staff of the Welcome House and their generosity and kindness toward us. We were able to get to know them and we looked forward to seeing them every week.”

The learning went both ways during the students’ time at the Welcome House. They were able to teach the homeless population many lessons about how to care for themselves better, but the students learned from the guests at the shelter as well.

“What we learned from this group,” said Hartman, “is that they were educated. Many had high school and college diplomas and had even held high-paying jobs.”

Pereira continued, “When talking to them, you really have no clue that they’re homeless. It was a common experience for us to not know if we were talking to a Welcome House guest or volunteer.”

The students described the guests of the Welcome House as polite, friendly and engaging. The guests conversed with the students and “made jokes that had us rolling on the floor laughing.”

“They have a history,” said Hitscherich. “If you sit down and talk with them for a few minutes, you truly gain a new perspective.”

During their time at the Welcome House, the trio also held a personal hygiene supply drive for the residents. Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd and Christ the King Church in Kingston helped them collect items like toothpaste, toothbrushes and razors. “We collected all the stuff that food stamps can’t pay for,” said Pereira.

The Welcome House experience was just one of many clinical rotations that a URI nursing student is required to complete before graduation.

“URI nursing students complete a variety of clinical experiences during their undergraduate education,” said Ann “Nancy” Doyle-Moss, associate clinical professor in the College of Nursing. “Students begin clinical rounds their sophomore year and work with a different demographic each semester. This semester, the focus was on community nursing.”

“There’s a whole teaching aspect to nursing,” said Hitscherich. “Our time at the Welcome House gave us experience with that.”

The students also gave weekly presentations at the South County senior services center on topics like how to avoid falls and hypothermia during the winter.

Kenneth McCort, a Wakefield resident who attended the team’s final talk at the center said he appreciates when URI students visit the center. “The presentations are significant, very informative and relevant,” he said. “They talk about issues that I might never have thought of and am now aware of.”

“I’m absolutely proud of the work the students did at the Welcome House and senior center,” said Doyle-Moss. “They went above and beyond.”

Emma Clarke, a senior URI Marketing & Communications intern and a public relations and French double major, wrote this release.

Pictured above

URI senior nursing students Liz Pereira, left, of Wallingford, Conn. and Stefanie Hitscherich of Woodcliff Lake, N.J discuss staying warm by layering clothing during the winter months at a wellness clinic at the South Kingstown senior services center in November. Throughout the fall semester, three URI nursing students held weekly educational sessions at the Welcome House in Peace Dale and then brought their presentation to the South Kingstown center on the final day of their clinical rotation.

URI senior nursing student Liz Pereira of Wallingford, Conn. participates with a group of senior citizens in exercises designed to help prevent winter falls during a wellness clinic at the South Kingstown senior services center in November.

URI senior nursing student Ali Hartman of Cranston, R.I. discusses the signs of frostbite at a wellness clinic at the South Kingstown senior services center in November.

URI photos by Joe Giblin