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Public Policy Key Part of Nursing Education 

Jocelyn Anthony delivers part of a group presentation on the importance of HIV testing during RIC’s School of Nursing Public Police Presentations for the Nursing 370 summer session class. Looking on are classmates Shannon Slack and Tiffany Therrien.

Jocelyn Anthony delivers part of a group presentation on the importance of HIV testing during RIC’s School of Nursing Public Police Presentations for the Nursing 370 summer session class. Looking on are classmates Shannon Slack and Tiffany Therrien.

 

Nurses often see first-hand the health problems that can come from a lack of preventative care awareness among the general public. “Nurses see the people brought in with car accident injuries from not wearing a seatbelt,” said Mary Byrd, a professor in the Rhode Island College School of Nursing. “In public nursing, we’re concerned about the health of communities. The only way you can affect change is at the public level and one way we can promote change is through influencing public policy.”

That is the reasoning behind RIC’s public/community health course in which nursing students are introduced to ways in which they can, as future nursing professionals, advocate for public health change. The course culminates each semester in a day of public policy presentations.

Students are organized into groups to identify a community health issue they feel could be addressed through public policy changes. The groups work to collect and analyze data about their chosen issue, assess the population most affected by the issue, formulate a community diagnosis and analyze policies affecting the issue.

The students then present, in front of their classmates, other students, RIC faculty and staff, their findings and recommendations on combating the issue. “It’s really to help our students obtain the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to influence public policy that’s really going to promote health and prevent illness among the public,” Byrd said. “Since most of the course students are seniors, it’s almost a capstone project and experience.”

During the summer 2013 session, students made presentations titled “Put the Lockdown on Drunk Driving,” “HIV Testing: It’s for all of us” and “Driving Towards Fresh Air.”

Oleg Tatsivenko, part of the team who presented on HIV testing, said his group concluded that the standard practice of targeting testing campaigns based on lifestyle risk no longer works. His group would like to see HIV testing offered as a routine blood test by primary care doctors. The way to make this happen, he said, is to start lobbying public health organizations and legislative representatives. “As nurses, we can participate in this change on a local and national level,” Tatsivenko said.

The course also teaches fundamentals of public policy advocacy through visits to the Rhode Island Department of Health and the State House. Students also complete an assignment based on analyzing a health-related bill introduced by a Rhode Island legislative representative and composing a letter to that legislator to share their thoughts on the bill. “Another way to advocate change is to vote and to be active in the political process,” Byrd said. “We encourage participation in professional organizations. It’s really part of the standards of our practice to be a responsible citizen and to work for social justice.”

The next public policy presentations will take place in early December. All presentation sessions are open to the entire RIC community.