Community Clinic Provides Learning Opportunities for Mason Nursing Students

By Michele McDonald

Patients not only receive health care at the new nonprofit HealthWorks for Northern Virginia in Herndon, they’re helping George Mason University’s nursing students learn on the job.

“This is the place to be if you’re a student,” says nurse practitioner Huma Hussain, who is working on her doctor of nursing practice degree through George Mason’s School of Nursing and plans to go into family care. “It’s a great learning environment.”

Mason nursing students Hannah O'Rourke, Huma Hussain, and Kristen Floersheimer work at HealthWorks clinic. Photo by Alexis Glenn.

Mason nursing students Hannah O’Rourke, Huma Hussain, and Kristen Floersheimer work at HealthWorks clinic. Photo by Alexis Glenn.

Now dubbed HealthWorks, the former Jeanie Schmidt Free Clinic changed its name, moved into sleek new digs this spring, and took on an expanded mission to become a community health center.

Last fall the Jeanie Schmidt Free Clinic joined forces with the Loudoun Community Health Center, a nonprofit health care provider with two locations in Loudoun County, to create HealthWorks. The community health center provides services for the entire family, says HealthWorks clinical director Diane Henzey, who is also an adjunct faculty member at Mason. “We can get federal funding that way.”

But no one was left behind in the move. “We took all of our patients with us,” Henzey says.

And the core mission remains the same—help patients while training the next wave of nursing students at Mason’s College of Health and Human Services.

Mason School of Nursing faculty Kathy Dickman, Marie Kodadek, and Joanne Iannitto supervise the students at HealthWorks clinic. Photo by Alexis Glenn.

Mason School of Nursing faculty Kathy Dickman, Marie Kodadek, and Joanne Iannitto supervise the students at HealthWorks clinic. Photo by Alexis Glenn.

About 57 undergraduate nursing students and 38 graduate students did clinical rotations at HealthWorks this year–many training to become nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners receive advanced training, beyond that of a registered nurse, and can be a patient’s primary care provider.

“It’s like a hands-on classroom,” says Mason nursing professor Kathleen Dickman. “I think that piece is very good for both patients and students.”

It’s also good for the professors. “We are putting classroom learning into action at the clinic,” she says.

Students become more than listeners in a classroom. “We’re all working side by side,” Dickman says. “We mentor students, and graduate students mentor undergraduate students. It’s great fun.”

Dickman spearheaded the $1.6 million Health Resources and Services Administration grant that supports Mason’s Partners for Access to Healthcare (PATH). The PATH grant makes it possible for Mason professors and students to provide care to patients at HealthWorks.

HealthWorks also added behavioral health screening to go beyond physical symptoms and address depression and anxiety, says Mason adjunct professor Penny Cameron.

Working directly with patients can help students decide what path they want to take in health care.

“The experiences that I’ve had here have shaped what I want to do,” says Kristen Floersheimer, who earned her master’s degree in May to become a family nurse practitioner. “It has made me realize how nurse practitioners can really make a difference because you are the only health care people the patients are seeing and perhaps the only health care provider they’ve ever seen.”

Mason doctoral student Mary June So is collecting the data behind the care, an essential task for the PATH grant. The clinic is transitioning to a computer tracking system, and she’s analyzing data behind the TeleHealth program that connects diabetic patients with care providers over the phone. These patients are showing an improvement in managing their own care.

While So, who plans to graduate in 2015 with a doctor of nursing practice in psychology, is already a registered nurse, working in community health is a first for her and one she recommends. “I think it’s made my time at Mason more valuable,” she says.

Nursing students also learn what it’s like on the other side of the patient chart thanks to an innovative project by a team of graduate nursing students. “Students will see some of the struggles and how difficult it can be to get specialized care,” Dickman says.

Graduate students Michele Earhart, Kim Rathburn, and Jennifer Kang created a program for the clinic where nursing students learn what it’s like to apply for health insurance, find services, pay for medication, and locate care for chronic conditions such as diabetes. “We want to give students a full picture,” Kang says.

The trio will apply what they learn from creating the program as they take on other projects to educate both nurses and the public about health issues. “This program is teaching us how to teach,” says Rathburn.

Earhart has been a registered nurse for 17 years. She’s a believer in advanced degrees for nurses and Mason’s flexibility with online courses made it possible for her to work on a master’s in nursing education.

Rathburn, who is earning her master’s degree in nursing to specialize in nurse education, couldn’t decide between becoming a nurse or a teacher so she combined the two. This is her second career. “It’s funny going back to school as a grown-up,” she says.

Both students and professors, not to mention patients, find what they need in the HealthWorks clinic.

“What I love is when you see that ‘a-ha’ moment and you know the student understands what is being taught,” Dickman says. “I get to see that often in the clinic.”

To read more stories about Mason, check out the university’s News site.

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