Nursing volunteers ‘ready when the time comes’

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Northeastern’s School of Nursing and the American Red Cross have formed a first-of-its-kind partnership to equip students, faculty, and alumni with disaster-relief training. File photo

When dis­as­ters such as Super­storm Sandy or the Boston Marathon bomb­ings strike, vol­un­teers from Northeastern’s School of Nursing will now be equipped to join the front lines in helping those in need thanks to a new part­ner­ship with the Amer­ican Red Cross.

Ear­lier this month, Amer­ican Red Cross vol­un­teer rep­re­sen­ta­tives and trainers led a half-day intro­duc­tory course at the Curry Stu­dent Center as part of its cor­po­rate vol­un­teer pro­gram called “Ready When The Time Comes.” The pro­gram aims to train employees from part­nering orga­ni­za­tions and mobi­lize them as a community-based vol­un­teer force in response to a disaster.

“This part­ner­ship is a great way for stu­dents to learn new skills and to give back to their com­mu­nity,” said Carole Kenner, dean of the School of Nursing. “The Amer­ican Red Cross pro­vides a great ser­vice to our com­mu­nity and nation. It is an honor to be a part of their efforts.”

This marks the first time the Amer­ican Red Cross has part­nered with a nursing school for this pro­gram, according to Catherine O’Connor, a clin­ical instructor in the School of Nursing who is leading the ini­tia­tive. The 60 stu­dents, fac­ulty mem­bers, and alumni who par­tic­i­pated learned about the Red Cross’ mis­sion and were intro­duced to some of the fun­da­men­tals of volunteering.

The par­tic­i­pants were cer­ti­fied to vol­un­teer with the Amer­ican Red Cross during dis­as­ters and can now take addi­tional training in spe­cific roles such as working in shel­ters or being part of a field team.

“I think it builds a skill set that clin­i­cally we are not able to pro­vide them,” O’Connor said. “We can pro­vide a lot of ser­vices, but the Amer­ican Red Cross has a lot to teach us as well.”

The part­ner­ship was set in motion last year, when nursing stu­dents were unable to vol­un­teer in the Super­storm Sandy recovery effort because they didn’t have the proper training.

“This is the go-ahead to get cer­ti­fied in what­ever area we want to help with during a dis­aster,” said senior nursing stu­dent Bri­anna Faherty.

The pro­gram will be offered every semester to North­eastern nursing stu­dents, fac­ulty, and alumni. Last week’s training was for seniors, but O’Connor said she is hoping all nursing stu­dents can par­tic­i­pate in the future so they can take advan­tage of the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion while at Northeastern.

“We are hopeful this will be the start of a long part­ner­ship,” said Kelly Miller, a Red Cross vol­un­teer ser­vices pro­gram man­ager who helped train North­eastern stu­dents last week.

One of the main goals of the School of Nursing’s mis­sion is addressing urban health con­cerns and pro­viding care to under­served pop­u­la­tions such as the home­less, impov­er­ished, and elderly.

To help those in the Greater Boston area who cannot readily get health­care, the School of Nursing cre­ated the Health in Motion Van, a mobile clinic that pro­vides HIV tests, immu­niza­tions, and sup­port for refer­rals, among other services.

Justin Alves, a 2013 grad­uate of the School of Nursing who works on the van, par­tic­i­pated in the dis­aster pre­pared­ness training. He said North­eastern nurses’ med­ical skills and the Amer­ican Red Cross’ dis­aster man­age­ment exper­tise is a great match.

“On the van we deal with hos­pital sit­u­a­tions out­side of the hos­pital,” Alves explained. “And I think that is where our skill set is going to come in handy.”

The Red Cross part­ner­ship builds on other dis­aster assis­tance edu­ca­tion pro­grams for North­eastern nursing stu­dents. For instance, all stu­dents par­tic­i­pate in dis­aster training at Boston Med­ical Center under the direc­tion of Mau­reen McMahon, an alumna of the School of Nursing’s grad­uate program.

“With nursing stu­dents, the Amer­ican Red Cross is get­ting people who under­stand how to work with patients and how to talk to people from diverse cul­tures and socioe­co­nomic back­grounds,” O’Connor noted. “I’m very proud of the stu­dents we have here. They are people of action. And this is some­thing they will be able to use for the rest of their lives.”

Written by Joe O'Connell

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