Registered nurses Clay Hooper (left) and Maribel Amodo (right), in USF's graduate nursing program, treat a student in the nurse's office at the School of the Epiphany in San Francisco.
San Francisco's inner-city Catholic schools have gone without nursing and health care services for years, but graduate nursing students from the University of San Francisco's School of Nursing hope to end that drought by taking up the call to minister to those most in need.
This spring, licensed registered nurses working toward a master's degree in nursing at USF became part-time school nurses and health educators in San Francisco Catholic schools that are part of the Alliance of Mission District Catholic Schools.
The School of Nursing's burgeoning collaboration is part of a broader alliance begun more than two years ago by a number of Catholic schools in the Mission to improve learning, share resources, and reduce costs, according to Maureen Huntington, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The Alliance of Mission District Catholic Schools operates under the San Francisco Archdiocese.
Alliance schools include Mission Dolores Elementary School, St. Anthony Immaculate Conception School, St. Elizabeth Elementary School, St. Finn Barr School, St. James Elementary School, St. Charles Borromeo School, St. Philip School, and the School of the Epiphany.
As is the case with many school districts, budgetary constraints have put the hiring of health care professionals out of reach for most area Catholic schools, according to Sr. Maureen Hilliard, Alliance executive director. "The only health education that is currently done at the schools is done by the teachers in the classroom, unless one of the teachers brings in a guest," Hilliard said.
She described the alliance between the School of Nursing, the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, and the Alliance as "cutting edge." "Providing this service to underserved students in inner-city Catholic schools responds to the Catholic mission to reach out to our brothers and sisters in need and to do justice," Hilliard said.
As part of the School of Nursing's Registered Nurse-to-Master of Science in Nursing (RN-to-MSN) program, USF nursing students worked part-time in Alliance schools during the spring semester, with a different set of nurses poised to take over in the fall.
Nursing students worked all day on Wednesdays, treating headaches, upset stomachs, and other common ailments, but primarily focused on overall health and nutrition, said Kimberleigh Cox, one of the USF nursing instructors involved in the program.
While Alliance school principals determine what services are most needed at each school, USF nursing students commonly provide preliminary vision examinations, spinal screenings, asthma and diabetes care, as well as nutritional education, Cox said.
USF nursing students also worked with families to develop care plans for students with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, and to refer those without a primary care physician to low-cost resources, said Judith Karshmer, dean of the School of Nursing.
"This is the start of what I hope will become an important part of the School of Nursing's outreach to all the Catholic schools in San Francisco," Karshmer said.
Not only do students and parents of Alliance schools benefit from improved health through the program, but USF nursing students receive credit toward the 135 hours of clinical community service required of all RN-to-MSN students to graduate.
"This is great for USF students, as they will be able to bring their nursing background and skills, and make a real world impact while they advance their knowledge about health promotion, disease prevention, risk reduction, and keeping people healthy," Karshmer said.
Beyond completing the 135 hours of required community service, RN-to-MSN students study statistics, community health theory, and other courses during the two-year program. "For us, it's about building community and building a workforce that has a working knowledge in school health," said Dina Silverthorne, USF nursing instructor.
An additional benefit of exposing young students to nurses and, by default, the nursing profession early on is that some may consider joining the growing health care profession, Karshmer said.