On February 8, 2019, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving approved a grant from the Stanley D. and Hinda N. Fisher Fund of $6,075 to support four Goodwin College Nursing students who will participate in a three-day Remote Area Medical (RAM) mission trip to Wise County, Virginia.
Using a variety of medical and non-medical volunteers, RAM offers pop-up medical clinics throughout the United States and around the world that provide health care to anyone free of charge. British philanthropist Stan Brock, who founded RAM in 1984, dedicated his life to serving the underserved and created an organization that provides free health care for those in need.
As she has in past years, Sue Grabowski, a nurse and instructor in Goodwin’s Nursing Department, will supervise the students on their mission. She had the opportunity to work with, and learn from, Mr. Brock before his passing in 2018.
“He reminded us who our work is really about,” she says. “I was fortunate enough to get an education, become a registered nurse, and have health insurance. When I get sick, I go to a doctor. The people of Wise County can’t. The few days that we volunteer there are little, compared to what Stan Brock accomplished.”
The RAM experience has an enormous personal and professional impact on past Goodwin students, providing a supervised skilled nursing training as well as exposure to issues of medical care access and delivery in remote and impoverished areas.
“It’s a life-changing experience,” Grabowski says. “Working with a population of underserved and often uninsured patients gives the students a look at how different access is in other parts of the country. This mission also teaches them how culture and topography influence health care.”
Since being abandoned by the declining coal industry, Wise County has been in a severe economic depression for several generations. The U.S. Census Bureau lists the area’s median income as $38,255, which accounts for a 23.3% poverty rate. Individuals under the age of 65 with a disability account for 19.4% of the population and 11.9% of individuals under the age of 65 do not have health insurance.
Many individuals depend on the dental, health, and vision care provided annually by RAM on the site of the Wise County Fairgrounds. Hundreds camp out overnight in order to see medical professionals the following day. For the majority of participants, the trip to RAM is the only medical care they receive over the course of the year. More than 2,000 people participate in medical appointments, and over 800 pairs of prescription eyeglasses are distributed over the three days of the Wise County RAM mission.
“It’s humbling when we arrive at the mission at 4 a.m. and see the cars and make-shift tents where people have spent the night so that they can see a doctor,” Grabowski explains. “This is their only access to health care. I spoke to one patient who had walked for miles because he needed to see a physician and had no other options.”
The experience is a powerful one for the student nurses as they begin to shape their professional identities, discover how they want to practice their skills, and where they will devote their energies in their future careers. This speaks directly to Goodwin’s philosophy of preparing nurses who take a holistic view of caring for their patients, seeing the big picture as well as the numbers on their medical charts.
Goodwin’s Nursing School Department chair Janice Watts is a champion of this kind of training. “We are used to envisioning one kind of nurse, often based on what we see on medical television shows,” Watts says. “But nurses in the community have a true frontline opportunity to interact with people at the ground level. There’s a huge knowledge deficit that exists. It may be socioeconomic status, but it may also reflect being brought up in a family where certain things — depression, for example — aren’t talked about.”
Giving student nurses access to initiatives like RAM is an effective way of preparing more capable and aware health care professionals. Students come away grateful for the experience. It opens their eyes to segments of the American population that are not so fortunate. Students who have attended this mission in the past often share that they never realized so many people in America do not have access to adequate health care.
“We are thrilled and humbled by the generous support of the Fisher Fund,” says Goodwin College’s Director of Grants, Sandra Ward. “This support will provide life-changing experiences both through medical for Wise County residents, as well as through a powerful field experience for our nursing students. This trip has the potential to shape how our students utilize their nursing degrees to impact health care inequities.”
“I am excited because I know that these few days will change the students’ perspective on health care for the rest of their lives,” Grabowski summarizes.
Follow the day to day activities of Goodwin nursing students during their medical mission at goodwinstudentsmedicalmission.wordpress.com.
Goodwin College is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin College was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.