By Jake Fain
A group of nursing majors used their medical knowledge last month to help others in an especially economically depressed region of the South – the first time undergraduates in nursing at Union have had this kind of opportunity.
Fourteen students and four professors assisted residents of Blackey, Ky., Oct. 12-14, about an eight-hour drive from Jackson in southeastern Kentucky.
Blackey, a mountainous region, operated 12 mines last year. This year, tough economic conditions have closed 10 of the mines.
Brandy Brown, assistant professor of nursing, said the closings have affected a large number of families. Few residents can afford necessities, and even fewer are able to afford the health care they need, she said.
Previous nursing program mission trips have primarily been reserved for graduate students. Brown and other faculty members have been working toward getting undergraduates involved, she said.
“It was just unbelievable to see how this mission just seemed to fall into place with every step we took,” Brown said.
Contacts in Blackey had been relaying residents’ conditions to Brown and the other professors for some time. Upon reaching the city, Brown said, it became apparent to the group just how serious the situation is for many residents.
“The cancer rate in Blackey is more than twice that of the common amount in any given area,” Brown said. “They have unclean water since it’s pumped through wells that are poorly cared for. The air quality is also very poor.
“And now that the local hospital will soon no longer accept certain brands of health insurance, they people of Blackey will be forced to drive more than 100 miles to the nearest hospital outside of town.”
The students’ primary goals included assessing community needs and available resources and also to talk with patients about developing a relationship with Christ.
Firefighters took the students on tours of the city in their fire engines, discussing with students the high cancer rates among residents.
Katie Smith, senior nursing major, went to Blackey with high hopes.
Smith attempted to connect with patients on a personal level while taking their blood pressure, she said.
If a patient’s blood pressure was high, the attending student would share tips on how to lower blood pressure and how to stay healthy, she said.
The group also visited an elder care facility and talked with its residents about how to avoid complications while taking medications.
“I think that we are always in such a hurry to take care of our own priorities that we end up missing out these opportunities to sit with people in need and just have a meaningful one-on-one time with them,” Smith said.