Community clinic experience ‘opens eyes’ of nursing students’ impact

Published March 15, 2023

Chairs sat empty and the blood pressure gauge lay unused for the time being. It was early. Yet, as the day wore on, three fourth-year Cal State Long Beach student nurses would be busy doing wellness checks on residents of Century Villages at Cabrillo as part of a community health care program. 

These twice weekly sessions might lack the hustle and pace of a hospital, but the lessons learned in the outreach program magnify the need for skilled nurses in the workforce. 

“This opened my eyes to the wider possibilities of the impact you can have as a nurse,” said nursing student Kaylan Lockrem. 

Student demonstrates oxygen monitor on her finger

“When you are working bedside in a hospital, it’s easy to see the patient in that moment and you know whether they are taking their medication or getting treatment regularly. Here, it’s not as clear.” 

The program, which often has nursing students working at various clinics in the area, expands on what they have learned in their first three years in CSULB’s highly rated School of Nursing and prepares them to join California’s future workforce, one of the priorities of the university’s No Barriers comprehensive fundraising campaign. 

The experience they receive enables them to make an impact within the Long Beach community and beyond, as well as enrich and deepen the impact of a Beach education.

Karen King ‘01 and her husband, Jim, established an endowed scholarship at The Beach to help students pursue a career in nursing. 

“I wanted to pay it forward,” said Karen King, who completed her Registered Nurses program at CSULB. “Since my husband and I don’t have any children, we decided this would be a meaningful legacy to leave for future generations of nursing students.” 

Students in the School of Nursing earn much of their required clinical hours in hospital settings. However, many of the residents at Century Villages are former transients or veterans who have various health problems that have not been addressed in years or months. 

Student Amanda Early said some of the residents at Century Villages are hesitant to come by or share their medical needs because of their backgrounds. Many residents have been unhoused or are untrusting of others. 

“It’s big to put your health into someone else’s hands and we understand that, so you have to build a rapport to help them trust you,” Early said. 

Every week throughout the spring semester, fourth-year student nurses arrive at the 27-acre campus community tucked in near Interstate 710 and administer wellness checks to many of the 1,625 residents, including 696 veterans, who make their way over to the Social Hall or the large orange Dignity Health mobile van. There, the students take their pulse, perform basic screenings and ask whether they are taking their prescribed medications. 

“Some people truly don’t understand their disease (such as high blood pressure) or will tell you that they take three medications, but don’t know what they are,” said student Crystal Guerrero. She added that they also try to plug into a client’s emotional and social situations that are not listed on any hospital chart.  

student nurse takes blood pressure
Performing basic screenings are part of the work CSULB student nurses do at various community centers, such as Century Villages at Cabrillo in Long Beach.

The weekly drop-in health-care management is provided through a partnership with The Beach and CityHeART, a non-profit that serves veterans, seniors and families experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity in Long Beach. 

Roughly 10-12 nursing students take part in the semester-long program at Century Villages at Cabrillo, providing supplemental health care case management, care coordination, in addition to the screenings at the drop-in visits. The work fulfills their community health objectives. 

“They see between 5-10 people each Wellness Day, and we get positive feedback from both residents and the case managers whose clients are seen at wellness days,” said Paige Pelonis, founder and executive director of CityHeART, one of 14 agencies located at Century Villages. 

“Since we’ve been running this program, it has been extremely well received, and we’ve been really intentional about incorporating feedback each semester to continue to improve the program.”  

The partnership between The Beach and CityHeART began during the COVID-19 pandemic when Loan Nguyen Pryor, a lecturer in the School of Nursing, reached out to Pelonis to see if her students could collaborate with the community. Pelonis was more than eager to have qualified student nurses support their case management load. 

“Our main duties were to provide supplemental case management, health education and health program planning for their community members,” Nguyen Pryor said. 

Nguyen Pryor said treating clients in a community setting can be complicated because of a level of distrust. 

“They might be older, male veterans who aren’t necessarily going to trust a young college student or a transient who is used to hiding from authority figures,” Nguyen Pryor said. “It can be very complex but not because of a lack of knowledge on the students’ part.”