As Melissa Miles neared completion of her accelerated nursing degree at Marymount University
, she and seven peers spent a weekend volunteering with Remote Area Medical of Virginia in the state’s rural Northern Neck. They served a population she said is “hidden out in the open.”
Under the supervision of three faculty members, they worked triage for the non-profit that provides free medical, dental, and vision care on a “first-come, first served” basis to people in need from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Nov. 4 and 5 at Richmond County Elementary School in Warsaw. The students greeted patients and took medical histories, blood pressure readings, vital signs and blood sugar levels.
“The thing that stuck with me the most was how nervous they were when they first sat down and how much more relaxed they were by the end of our conversations,” the Springfield resident said. “They come in at a very vulnerable state.”
She listened to their stories and reassured them that she would explain anything they didn’t understand. Though many took advantage of medical services, the vast majority requested dental and vision care.
“Oral health is really one of the biggest issues that we have going nationally that has not been addressed by our system,” said Dr. Agnes Burkhard
, an associate professor of nursing who organized this and two previous RAM service trips.
The other faculty members were Colleen Sanders
, assistant professor of nursing, and Marian Harmon, an adjunct professor. Other students were Ann Cavanaugh, Alexandra Fredericksen, Jessica Gaarde, Donna Huynh, Katherine Joye, Lauren Lockwood and Christine Pennington. The MU volunteers received financial support for the trip from the school’s Wellness Committee and its Eta Alpha Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing.
Miles, who has Marymount service learning experience
from an August trip to Nicaragua, was impressed by the scale of the RAM event. Long lines had already formed when the clinic opened and 642 clients were served.
“They were so incredibly efficient and really knew how to handle that big of a crowd,” she said. “It was an orchestration of hundreds of volunteers.”
Burkhard, whose background is primarily in community public health, said RAM service can be an eye-opener for those with limited rural health care experience.
“All of our clinicals are in more urban/suburban areas,” she said. “This showed the additional challenges people face in rural areas, especially if they’re economically challenged.”
But the problems of health care access aren’t limited to outlying areas.
Miles said that even in her home county of Fairfax — one of the most-affluent counties in the nation — she knows of five areas where homeless people camp permanently.
“RAM could hold an event here in Fairfax county and there would be a line a mile long,” she said.
The experience brought home many of the reasons Miles chose nursing as a profession.
“As a student on the cusp of graduation it helps re-instill the feeling, drive and original reasons I wanted to be a nurse: helping the community, serving others and being part of something bigger that affects so many lives,” she said.
Eight Marymount University nursing students spent Nov. 4 and 5 volunteering with Remote Area Medical of Virginia in the state’s rural Northern Neck. Top row, from left, Adjunct Professor Marian Harmon, Lauren Lockwood, Jessica Gaarde, Ann Cavanaugh, Kat Joye, Allie Fredericksen, Assistant Professor Colleen Saunders, Associate Professor Agnes Burkhard, Melissa Miles. Bottom row, Donna Huynh, Christine Pennington.