education and service

Nursing graduate student Melanie Parks is studying for her dream job as a family nurse practitioner. She was involved in initiating and implementing RU’s Mobile Health Clinic services in Craig County. In January 2000, while taking an advanced class on nursing practice in rural families and communities, she wrote a grant proposal for a school-based health clinic, managed by a nurse practitioner, to be initiated in her home town of New Castle. The town was without a physician at the time and the nearest hospital was 33 miles away. She then learned that nursing professor Janet McDaniel was in the process of writing a grant for the mobile health clinic to go to communities in underserved counties. For Parks’ grant proposal, she e-mailed, wrote and called her legislators to express the need for health care in Craig County. “Later, I found out that [Congressman] Rick Boucher had named Craig County as the first county to receive the mobile unit services,” says Parks. “I would like to think that my letters, e-mails and calls had something to do with that designation.”  

While working as a full-time registered nurse on the mobile health unit, Parks gained a variety of nursing experiences in family practice while studying to be a family nurse practitioner. One particular patient she helped on the mobile unit stands out in her mind. A 62-year-old woman came to the mobile unit when she noticed a lump in her breast. She had no insurance and little income. Parks referred her to Carilion for screening, followed by what may have been a life-saving mastectomy. The patient now has Medicare coverage. “This is just one of the patients that I’ve helped physically, emotionally and financially. I have learned so much about nurse-run clinics, the nurse practitioner’s role in the community and how to assist the under- or uninsured population,” says Parks.

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The department of foods and nutrition offers services through the clinics as well as community education opportunities. For example, undergraduate students in faculty member Michele Lewis’ community and cultural nutrition class provide educational materials and workshops to local community groups. This year’s projects include working with preschoolers at Radford Headstart, with the elderly at Pulaski Agency on Aging, with fifth-grade students at Belview Elementary School and with teens and adults at Kuumba — a school-based community health center in Roanoke. Foods and nutrition senior Mansi Parikh says this class allows her to implement what she learns and then evaluate the outcome of her work. She is working with Kuumba to create a diabetes educational program for the organization’s clients. “Our group has to come up with a way to motivate people to change their eating habits,” says Parikh. “We have to take into account that they may not have the money to buy healthy foods and they may not understand why eating healthy is important. It’s a challenge, but fun.”

Graduate dietetic internship students also provide services to the community and are earning top regional and national awards for their efforts. The dietetic internship program, which began in fall 2000, includes class work plus 900 hours in the community, including in local hospitals. “They’re really working,” says internship coordinator Susan Clark. “They’re not getting paid but they are out in the real world gaining experience, with the university’s support, for future development.” Students earn a graduate certificate including six credits of graduate study when they successfully complete the program. One of the goals of the program is to educate future dietitians for Southwest Virginia. Four out of the five graduates of the first class and three out of the second are now working among rural populations.

Katie Baker, of the first class, won the 2001 Outstanding Dietetics Student Award. This national award honors students from each state and recognizes emerging leadership and achievement of students in accredited dietetic education programs. Laura Jewett, of the second class, won the 2002 Leadership Development Award. Others competing for the award included experienced professional dietitians. Jewett demonstrated her commitment to educating the public and other health professionals about dietitians’ positive impact on health care by promoting the dietetics profession to state legislators. She acted as project coordinator in the production of an educational video and a series of public service announcements educating the public about proper nutrition. She has also provided nutrition counseling and health screenings and coordinated and presented programs in the on-campus Weight Management Clinic.

Employers of RU’s former dietetic interns are thoroughly impressed by their knowledge and skill. Registered dietitian Cathryn Dunn, who hired recent dietetic intern Jennie Henchion, says Henchion’s “clinical skills and her interpersonal skills are a tribute to our profession. I consider myself fortunate to know her as a colleague. I have to keep reminding myself that she is ‘entry-level.’ She has done an excellent job." Another employer says 2002 graduate Amanda Lytton is one of the best prepared interns she has ever encountered. 

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