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Experiential Learning at FDU

They’re ready for the orientation crowds! This year’s Student Health Assistants, or SHAs, include (from left) Faye Tabili, Danielle Moore, Heather Saurel, Priscilla Gomez and Janki Kasabwala. (Photo courtesy of Liz Drywa)

By Kenna Caprio

Digging around in boxes of old medical charts might not sound like a glamorous way for students to spend the summer. But by wrangling the archives, they allowed the nurses at Student Health Services — Metropolitan Campus to fully prioritize patient care and health education.

The archives overhaul started after Ann Mahan, nurse practitioner and director of SHSMetro, and Liz Drywa, administrative assistant, established the Student Health Assistants program two years ago.

The Office of Residence Life has resident assistants. The Dean of Students Office has orientation leaders. To grow SHSMetro, Mahan realized that she needed to create a competitive program of her own.

“We’re required to keep medical charts for ten years,” says Drywa. There’s only room to keep files on current students upstairs, so the others remain downstairs for reference. “The SHAs reorganized the entire archive system. It’s so efficient now. But they spent hours down there organizing.”

Once the original cohort of six organized the files, Drywa and Mahan wanted to involve the SHAs further through orientation and education outreach. 

At orientation, the SHAs and nurses set up ten stations so that they can talk to every student one-on-one. “It’s very informative for incoming students,” says Drywa. “We give them everything they need,” including medical forms and immunization information.

Before interacting with patients, “we trained them on confidentiality,” says Mahan. Students also learned what comprises a medical chart and how to perform an initial scan of the chart. They participated in mock encounters as practice for interacting with parents and students at the front desk. 

Beyond their administrative tasks, the SHAs flex their creative muscles in contributing to health education outreach projects. Faye Tabili, 21, a nursing major from Parsippany, N.J. jokes that the SHAs call these responsibilities, “arts and crafts time.” The women painted a mural on the glass windows at the front of SHSMetro and will design a border for the front desk window too. Each month the SHSMetro bulletin board themes will change, thanks to the content the SHAs created in advance. They’ve also made Prezis (shareable online presentations and slideshows) to align with different health topics for presentations the nurses will give.

“These students are getting exposure to healthcare, but also enhancing their communication skills and learning how to work with coworkers, parents, students and peers,” says Drywa. This year’s group of assistants includes five women majoring in nursing, psychology, biology and medical technology. 

In their majors, these students have to know how to “deal with a person as a whole,” says Heather Saurel, 19, a junior and psychology major from Roselle, N.J. “Being in a professional setting enhances that understanding of how to deal with students, parents and each other.”

“They’re not afraid to ask questions or speak their minds and put their ideas out there,” says Drywa. SHSMetro nurses respond by making time to guide the students and offer them advice.

“The staff members are open to helping you out,” says Priscilla Gomez, 20, a junior and biology major from Guttenberg, N.J. “They don’t hesitate to answer you.”

Just being in the building, “makes the nurses excited to teach us little things. They give us tips from when they were in our place (in school),” adds Danielle Moore, a 19-year-old junior from Brooklyn, N.Y. studying nursing.

For Janki Kasabwala, a 20-year-old junior from Clifton, N.J. who is majoring in medical technology, and the rest of the SHAs, the experience has been more than just a resume builder. “It’s the experience of meeting new people. I love my coworkers.”

“Out of the classroom learning is just as important as in class learning,” says Drywa. “With on-campus jobs, students are still acting as part of the University and are gaining work experience.”

With the success of the SHA program, it’s not just Drywa and Mahan who are thinking bigger.

“The goal is to get SHSMetro out there,” says Saurel. People don’t realize that SHSMetro is more than just a place to come for care when you’re sick, say Saurel and Moore. “They can just stop in,” says Moore. “We’re always here to talk,” adds Gomez. “And not just about healthcare and health records.”

Ultimately, those visits would play into Mahan and Drywa’s goal. They see the SHAs as becoming health education peer leaders, who stay on as part-time SHSMetro employees throughout the school year, assisting on education initiatives. 

“Everybody thinks if you look it up on the web, it must be true. It’s not! We want to be a resource and give them the correct information,” says Mahan.

With that in mind, the SHAs say they’ll join the Campus Health and Public Safety Team or CHAPs, a student organization and SHSMetro outreach, which offers medical and health-related training and seminars on campus.

“I am so proud of them and their professionalism,” says Mahan. “They represent FDU at the highest level.”

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