Authors: Dr. Joan Samuels-Dennis, Liudi Xia, Sandra Secord and Rivie Seaberg
Poverty, along with other factors such as unemployment, work and life stressors, interpersonal violence, and lack of access to high quality health and/or social services all play a role in determining who develops a mental illness and for whom those symptoms persist or worsen. Senior nursing student preparing to enter the field and working in a service learning capacity may be able to influence early recovery and symptom abatement among those most vulnerable to mental illness. A consortium of community stakeholders and researchers collaboratively designed a 10-week mental health promotion project called the Health Advocacy Project (HAP). The project combines case management and system navigation support delivered by trained and highly supervised nursing students to individuals experiencing major depressive disorder (MDD) and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In this article, we present the findings of a qualitative project fidelity evaluation that examines the effectiveness of nursing students in delivering the health advocacy intervention at the level and with the intensity originally intended. Additionally, we examine from participants’ perspective, if nursing students delivered the service in accordance with the client-centered, anti-oppressive tenets and philosophical principles embedded in their training. Focus group and post-intervention interview data from study participants suggest that senior nursing students are indeed an effective service provider both because of their state of readiness and their ability to enact the client-centered, anti-oppressive tenets incorporated into their training. Trained and highly supervised nursing students successfully assisted participants with resource/service access; facilitated self-reliance; and supported participants as they moved toward recovery and re-engagement in work activities. Furthermore, our findings suggest that nursing students’ service learning experiences contributed to 1) a greater understanding of community needs; problems, and the intervention service; 2) a heightened awareness of certain inherent values of nursing such as social justice and civic responsibility, and 3) an increased appreciation of potential roles for nurses in the community and society. This study demonstrates how the services of senior nursing students may be optimized to benefit our healthcare system and populations most at risk for developing MDD and PTSD.
Keywords: Health Advocacy, Service Learning, Nursing, Mental Health Promotion