Group photo with the Molloy and Charity nursing students. [Photo Credit: Robert Carlson]

A nursing student’s education in disaster preparedness and response is not confined to the classroom. Just ask Michelle De Lima DNP, APRN, CNOR, CNE, Assistant Professor at Delgado Community College and assistant faculty at Charity School of Nursing in New Orleans and Kathleen M. Lamaute, EdD, FNP-BC, NEA-BC, CNE professor at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, New York.  Last April we wrote about their collaboration that began in 2008.  This spring we met the current group of Molloy students in New Orleans for their community service and also Dr. DeLima’s students.  Joining us was Roslyn Pruitt, RN, a hospital Incident Commander during Hurricane Katrina and among the nurses profiled in our book, Nursing in the Storm: Voices from Hurricane Katrina.  

The New York-New Orleans connection began when Dr. DeLima took her nursing students to the St. Joseph Rebuild Center for their community work. The center, located downtown New Orleans on Tulane Avenue behind St. Joseph's Church, is a collaborative effort of several faith-based organizations, including the Harry Tompson Center  and Lantern Light Presentation Sisters, ministers to the homeless of New Orleans. A conversation with one of the sisters led the two nursing professors to connect.

“It has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for all involved, and broadens the nursing students’ world view by giving them a glimpse into what it’s like to provide care following a disaster, with a focus on how these circumstances impact vulnerable populations,” shared  Dr. DeLima. “I am not aware of other schools that have such an arrangement like ours, but it would be a wonderful opportunity for health care professionals from different regions of the country to collaborate.”

Molloy’s course, "Homelessness and Humanism in the Post- Katrina Environment” is geared for undergraduate nursing students who want the community service experience within the context of a post-disaster homeless population. Each year approximately 40 Molloy students apply for 10 openings.  Dr. Lamaute said the benefits of the course are transmitted by word of mouth throughout the student body.

This June, at Molloy’s National Dominican Colloquium, five students will have a panel presentation on how the course has affected them personally and professionally. “Three of the panelists are graduate RNs working full time; two are seniors,” Dr. DeLima informed us. “They are returning to share the experience and the impact it has had on their lives. The experience is well aligned with the college mission and well supported.”

In the early years students visited St. Bernard Parish, ground zero for Hurricane Katrina. After the FEMA trailer health clinics and urgent care center were disassembled and the new St. Bernard Parish Hospital opened, the focus shifted to touring the New Orleans Level I facility – Interim  LSU Public Hospital. Dr. DeLima also began inviting Charity students to guest lectures and participate in a focus discussion with the Molloy students on nursing in their states.

“Overall the main focus of disaster management has remained at the forefront during these visits, helping students understand there needs to be a global approach, combined with local knowledge, when enduring catastrophic events,” she noted. “Meeting  nursing personnel  who were on the disaster front lines helps students realize that nurses are qualified to effectively manage a disaster. Storytelling is a powerful tool in the andragogical tool kit, and academic evidence-based publications praise the virtues of storytelling as an effective active learning strategy by engaging students in the learning process."