Susan Watkins, a new member of the faculty at ISU's Mennonite College of Nursing, is director of the Change Agents to the Underserved: Service Education project. 

NORMAL — A four-year, $2.8 million federal grant will allow Illinois State University's Mennonite College of Nursing to train more students in patient care outside the hospital setting, with a focus on preventive health care for underserved populations.

ISU will be partnering with three Twin City health care agencies as part of the Change Agents to the Underserved: Service Education (CAUSE) project.

"As health care changes and shifts more and more towards prevention, it is important that nursing education move in accordance with that shift," said Judy Neubrander, dean of the Mennonite College of Nursing. "Because of that, we're incorporating more and more primary care and preventive practice into our curriculum, first with America's Promise and now with CAUSE."

Registered nurses will work at each of the three agencies, supervising and teaching students in a clinical setting.

“We want the nurses to be good teachers, … not just have the students watch everything, but also develop skills by doing it themselves,” said Susan Watkins, a new member of the ISU faculty and the project's director.

Although Watkins is new to the faculty, she is not new to ISU. She earned her master's degree in nursing from the Mennonite College of Nursing and is working on her doctorate at ISU. She brings seven years of experience in ambulatory care.

“It all fits together,” she said. “I'm so passionate about primary care,” calling the project “a win-win collaborative opportunity” for all involved.

Two nurses hired for the project will work at Chestnut Family Health Center and one each will work at the McLean County Health Department and the Community Health Care Clinic.

Dietra Kulicke, executive director of Chestnut Family Health Center, described the project as “a beautiful marriage” of those delivering services and the university providing education that “ultimately benefits the patients.”

Cathy Coverston Anderson, assistant director of the McLean County Health Department, said the project addresses the problem of recruiting and educating nurses in the much-needed areas of public health and primary care.

“The whole emphasis is to keep people at home and healthy rather than in an acute care facility,” said Anderson. “We are really looking forward to this. It addresses a need in the community.”

The grant was awarded through the U.S. Health Resources and Service Administration.

The first year will be spent developing the curriculum, hiring the four registered nurses, training them on procedures at the organizations where they will work and educating the student nurses.

Among the challenges will be collecting data about such things as patient outcomes, said Watkins.

“We have to show how this is benefiting the community, students and all partners,” she said.

Kulicke said the project “is reflective of the nursing program's commitment to understanding what the needs of the community are” and how to better meet them.

Although the details of the curriculum are yet to be worked out, it will include learning how to help patients with managing chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, heart failure and asthma.

Each student will receive 150 hours of patient care clinical experience as part of the project.

The goal is to have 72 students go through the program, said Watkins.

“This is really cutting edge for primary care education,” she said.

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Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota


Education Reporter

Education Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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