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Nurse Practitioner Students Teach School Kids About Nutrition

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By Jennifer Larson, contributor

What better way to learn about community health than to get out in the community and work with real people? For a group of Vanderbilt University nurse practitioner students, a local elementary school gave them the chance to teach children and their parents about health and nutrition—and learn a lot in the process.

Marie Phillips, RN, shows off a display board that Vanderbilt University School of Nursing students used to teach elementary school students in Nashville, Tenn. about good nutrition.

“Being able to go into the school and see these children and see what we can do to help; it was amazing,” said Jannyse Starks, a family nurse practitioner student at Vanderbilt.

When Starks and her classmates began their community health rotation this spring, they were instructed to report to Park Avenue Enhanced Option School, an elementary school in an older neighborhood in Nashville, Tennessee. Many of the students at the school come from households headed by a single parent and about 90 percent qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school.

Vanderbilt University School of Nursing sponsors and co-funds a clinic headed by registered nurse Marie Phillips at Park Avenue School, giving the students a natural place to begin their work. Phillips directed them to begin taking height and weight measurements of all the students as part of a comprehensive BMI (body mass index) program.

Then the nurse practitioner students got to visit each classroom and teach the children about good nutrition. They put together some informational displays and carried them around to show the children. The children clamored for the chance to determine which foods were healthy and unhealthy, matching broccoli to the first column and chocolate doughnuts to the second.

“It was really fun for them, and it was a great way to get them involved,” said nursing student Priya Champaneria, who plans to become a pediatric nurse practitioner after graduation next summer.

Starks learned a lot from having to tailor the nutrition information to each age group. For example, she discovered that the younger children loved the interactive activities, but the older children were more receptive to discussions.

“What I learned most is…that you have to teach children based on their level,” she said, adding that those skills will come in handy when she has to educate patients of varying ages.

The Vanderbilt students compiled a booklet of healthy recipes to distribute to the children. Keeping their young students’ socioeconomic situation in mind, they scoured the Internet for potential recipes, tweaked them to make them healthier, and added a few of their own favorites, like Ants on a Log (peanut butter and raisins on celery).

“We wanted to make sure that price and accessibility weren’t a barrier,” Champaneria said. “If it’s not affordable, they’re not going to make it.”

The students also made home visits to some of the children’s homes. From that experience, Starks learned what it was like to work with a patient who doesn’t always adhere to medication orders. When she visited a kindergartner and his mother at their home, Starks discovered that the child’s mother didn’t fully grasp some the repercussions of the decisions she made about her son’s diabetes. She channeled her energy into educating the mother over the course of three visits, and then she worked on educating the little boy about his health.

“This definitely was an enlightening experience,” she said. “It definitely taught me a lot. As nurses and nurse practitioners, all we can do is educate as much as possible and hope that we teach them the risks and benefits of listening or not listening to orders, including medication orders, from a health care provider.”

Phillips said that the Park Avenue School students absolutely loved having the Vanderbilt nurse practitioner students on campus. As a school nurse who is often swamped with medications and asthma treatments to administer and programs to coordinate, she appreciated all their help, too.

“”They were all willing to learn, and they just jumped right in,” she said.

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