A healthy start in a new country
School of Nursing graduate students develop cultural tools for refugees in Sacramento
Each year, thousands of refugees arrive in the United States seeking safety and freedom. Sacramento is home to families who left wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and religious persecution in Russia. When the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services launched its refugee resettlement program this year, directors sought the skills of master’s-degree students from the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis.
When graduate students begin their master’s program, they partner with local and regional organizations through the Community Connections class. The year-long School of Nursing course requires students to break out of their comfort zones to research and implement a system-wide solution.
“Students work on system-level issues, within a critical service-learning framework, that prompt them to engage with the communities we serve,” explained Jann Murray-Garcia, assistant adjunct professor and Community Connections leader. “Students experience interdisciplinary approaches, collaborate on best practices, foster respect for socioeconomic diversity and practice cultural humility.”
In teams of three, students problem solve within a framework built on self-reflection regarding their development as nurse leaders, as well as the premise that expertise can lie outside of the university and within community organizations.
“Typically, others come to me as a resource to develop solutions to problems that arise in our clinic,” said Beverly Schacherbauer, UC Davis Medical Center Cardiology Clinic manager and master’s-degree student. “Working with the food bank allowed me to understand the agency’s needs and contribute meaningful work that met their goals.”
Serving as consultants, Schacherbauer, along with classmates Andrea Rosato and Carel Troutman, sought to improve a new process within the food bank organization. Through the partnership, they developed materials to orient families, giving them a healthy start in their new home country. They designed a template for food bank managers to teach cultural orientation classes, including a PowerPoint for classroom presentations, resource guide detailing local health providers and quick-reference guide translated in refugees’ native languages. Information ranged from basic health and hygiene to how to seek care for serious or life-threatening injuries.
“When we were putting together the teaching module, it was still theoretical for the three of us,” said Rosato, an assistant nurse manager within the UC Davis Division of Cardiovascular Medicine. “When we first presented our information, we had to throw our assumptions out the window. These are real people, real families in transition. We had to incorporate what they really needed, as opposed to what we thought they needed.”
“The whole approach was unlike anything I’d experienced before,” added Troutman, a performance improvement nurse in the trauma program at San Francisco General Hospital. “Now I approach projects and patients with cultural humility, a listening ear and compassion.”
Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services has served as a Community Connections partner since 2010. From developing surveys to help the organization expand its services to creating policies and procedures for current programs, directors value the students’ involvement.
“To have this academic backbone to lean on and give legitimacy to changes we’ve made has been amazing,” said Genevieve Levy, programs director. “It’s like having an incredible volunteer that also provides professional development to your staff and consulting services for your programs.”
Levy said the involvement of School of Nursing students allows her personnel to step back from the day-to-day tasks to see what systems can be created for long-term success. The ultimate goal of this coursework is to grow students’ critical thinking and leadership skills, while improving the lives of those served by these community agencies.
“I know how to contact my doctor, what to do in an emergency, when to call 911, and I learned it here,” said Nematullah Savary , a husband and father of two who served as a translator for U.S. forces in Afghanistan and recently relocated to Sacramento. “I’m very lucky taking classes like this.”
“I have come away from every course I’ve taken with something professionally and personally impactful,” Rosato said. “I’m more hopeful that I can help change things and make them better. It’s empowering.”