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Partnership in health

Nursing students to learn with athletes in Special Olympics

Teaching and Learning

By Melanie Callahan

The 2016 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games are coming to Corner Brook March 1-6.

More than 800 athletes from across the country will compete in seven sports, vying for a place in the world games taking place in Austria in 2017.

To allow Memorial University nursing students to apply community health nursing theory to athletes participating in the national games, the Western Regional School of Nursing has formed a partnership with Special Olympics Canada.

Holistic health

One of the programs offered is titled Healthy Athletes—Health Promotion. Understanding that proper training involves more than simply being physically active, Special Olympics International founded the program as a way to offer health services and information to athletes.

Healthy Athletes combines a total of seven disciplines, three of which will be offered during the national games in Corner Brook. The Health Promotion discipline offers health screening and health-promotion education.

Second-year nursing students enrolled in Community Health Nursing Practice seek opportunities to work with community groups as part of the course requirements. In the past, nursing students have worked with children, youth groups, older adults, schools and organizations that deliver programs to specific community groups.

“I think this type of collaboration exemplifies the incredible opportunities that are possible when we reach out and engage with communities and across universities.” — Dr. Janet McCabe

Last fall Dr. Janet McCabe, assistant professor, College of Nursing, University of Saskatchewan, and a clinical director of the Healthy Athletes program, approached Cathy Stratton, director, Western Regional School of Nursing, to seek volunteers for the Healthy Athletes program while the games are in Corner Brook.

“I think this type of collaboration exemplifies the incredible opportunities that are possible when we reach out and engage with communities and across universities,” said Dr. McCabe. “The contribution of the faculty, instructors and students from Western Regional School of Nursing has been amazing.”

Course leaders Pam Moores and Trudy Read eagerly embraced the opportunity to be involved in such a significant event. Other faculty members on the teaching team include Peggy Colbourne, Peggy Hancock, Craig Brake and Nicole Curtis.

“Our involvement is a good fit,” said Ms. Moores. “This will provide our students some real-life experiences for health screening and education. We want it to be fun for the athletes, too, as well as an opportunity to learn.”

Under-served populations

Besides the opportunity to apply nursing knowledge to real-life situations, students will gain experience working with a population that is often under-served and can encounter significant barriers to health and health care. Supporting students to engage in the Special Olympics will assist in the development of a generation of nurses who will be better able to understand and address the needs of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Fifty-two nursing students and their five instructors will volunteer over four days, seeing hundreds of Special Olympics athletes during competition breaks. The students will begin with a health screening questionnaire; following that, athletes will be invited to visit educational booths and take part in activities on hydration, hand hygiene, healthy eating, body measurement, healthy blood pressure, physical activity and tobacco awareness/cessation.

The students will be supported and supervised by faculty members and team leaders from a health promotion team and evaluated on the health-promotion event planning and participation at the various venues, and later, on the students’ impressions and reflections of their whole experience.

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