Two groups of PSU nursing students decided to spend their winter break in class — but not the usual kind of class.
They earned credit for working as volunteers at PACE in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana.
PACE, or the Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly, promotes the health, independence and dignity of senior citizens by enabling frail older adults to live in their homes and in the community as long as medically and socially feasible.
It includes Adult Day Health Centers, primary and specialty physician care, medications, rehabilitative therapy, personal care services provided on site with a focus on preventative care.
The students aren't the first to do so; since 2011, more than 50 Gorillas have volunteered to serve at the center over winter break. University Professor Barbara McClaskey started the program after her department's longtime yearly trip to Juarez, Mexico, was challenged by travel warnings.
"I want to expose students to a different cultural environment," said McClaskey, who accompanied them on the trip. "As they go forward in their profession, it will be important for them to be able to relate to and care for a diverse population."
"They come away each year with an appreciation for different kinds of elderly care in a different area of the U.S."
Students worked in the medical clinic assessing patients, assisted with physical and occupational therapy, and interacted with them socially.
"There is a significant need for nurses caring for the elderly," McClaskey said, "so this is a great experience."
Her class, Transcultural Health Care, comes with three credit hours, provided the students also complete a journal and assigned readings in tandem with the trip.
Students raised their own funds to go on the trip, covering hotel costs, meals, and incidentals. They also were able to do a bit of sightseeing on the trip, including visiting historic Jackson Square and the French Quarter.
Mariah Zerr, a senior from Pittsburg, agreed the experience was a valuable one for many reasons.
"It was a completely different environment from here," Zerr said.
She noticed that from food, to living styles, to public transportation, to social interaction and dialect, the South is much different than the Midwest.
Stephanie Edwards, a senior from Frontenac, said it was worth giving up part of her winter break for.
"I would encourage other students who come after us to do it," Edwards said. "The juniors now definitely should do it next year. It's a unique opportunity you might not ever get again."
McClaskey said she is proud of her students for volunteering.
"These students do an incredible job of adapting to a different care setting in a very short period of time," she said.
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