Nursing/OT students collaborate on program to support senior citizens

Samantha Naguit ’18 has always known she wants to be a nurse. Caring for others is in her blood.

“My mom is a home health nurse, so she’s always been a voice in my ear encouraging me to become a nurse,” she says. “In high school, I was really good at biology and very interested in science, so taking the nursing route really made sense.”

Drawn by the reputation of Dominican’s nursing program, Samantha enrolled at Dominican after graduating from Center High School in Antelope, just outside Sacramento. However, until this semester Samantha did not know much about Dominican’s second largest academic program, occupational therapy.

“Honestly, until a few months ago I had no idea what occupational therapy was and what an occupational therapist did,” Samantha says.
“This semester I have been able to see that an occupational therapist is an important part of a health care team.”

Samantha’s insight is the result of a project funded through the Council of Independent Colleges by a generous grant from the AARP Foundation. Conducted throughout the fall semester, the program has paired nursing and occupational therapy students to provide home visits to socially isolated, low-income adults living in rural West Marin.

The team approach to patient care is common place in most health care settings, notes OT professor Miriam Monahan.  However, few programs exist that specifically prepare OT and nursing students to work together.

“These students are going to need to collaborate with different professionals when they enter the workplace,” Monahan says. “This program really is unique. It is a great opportunity to get students recognizing the strengths and skill sets each profession brings and it helps take care of patients more holistically.”

Nursing professor Dr. Ellen Christiansen has worked for many years in West Marin, collaborating with West Marin Senior Services on programs designed to support seniors who wish to age in place at home and helping coordinate home visits by Dominican nursing students. When approached by OT professor Dr. Kitsum Li to involve OT in the outreach work, Christiansen reached out to her contacts at West Marin Senior Services to identify clients who would best benefit from the service.

“West Marin is a rural and underserved area,” says Christiansen. “A lot of seniors there are attempting to age in place and their goal is to not be institutionalized. Our partner agency, West Marin Senior Services, gave us the referrals for the home visits so that our students can attempt to case manage and support these seniors.”

During each 90-minute weekly visit, the OT and nursing students work as a team, each observing and building on the other’s tasks.

“When we do our home visits, I take vitals and do assessments focused on making sure that the patient is doing well physiologically," Samantha says. “The OT student is focused on more functional tasks that help the clients with their daily routines.”

The OT, for example, monitors the client’s ability complete every-day tasks around the house, from using stove controls and reaching food supplies to accessing light switches and safely walking up and down stairs. The OT students also assess overall home safety, making sure that rugs are placed on non-slip surfaces, that lamp cords are out of the flow of foot traffic, and that curtains and furniture are at least 36 inches away from heaters.

Learning to collaborate with OT students has been invaluable, says nursing student Janelle de Dios ’18, who came to Dominican from St. Joseph High School in Alameda.

“I now know what an OT does and they can learn from the assessments they do with patients,” Janelle says. “I also have a much better understanding of how to work with an OT during treatment sessions.”

For example, a nursing student will talk with a client about nutrition and recommend foods to use in recipes. An OT can assess whether or not a client has the endurance necessary to cook the recommended meal, and then make recommendations focused on energy conservation.

“Once I am working as a nurse, I will be able to think about what type of help my patients will need once they go home,” says Janelle. “This program will really help me help my patients in the future.”


December 4, 2017