Brooke Paris, a junior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, always knew she wanted to be a nurse. Paris was drawn to the fact that nursing would give her the chance to positively impact others. What she didn’t know was what kind of an impact her work as a nurse would be leaving on the Knoxville community.
Along with clinical experiences and classes, nursing students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, are required to earn hours through the College of Nursing’s Academic Service–Learning program. The requirement helps students engage with the local community and learn more about groups of people and their needs, and that engagement and knowledge in turn help prepare them to be better nurses and health care leaders.
In the fall of 2020, Paris, along with three other nursing students, received an assignment at Guy B. Love Towers in North Knoxville, a high-rise property with two seven-story apartment buildings housing disabled and near-elderly individuals.
“I always knew I wanted to help people, but I never realized I would be able to also help communities with nursing,” Paris said. “My time at Love Towers has taught me the importance of community health. It has also made me appreciate the health care I have received my whole life. I never realized how privileged I was to be able to drive myself to a doctor’s appointment and be checked out by a physician.”
Chris Brown, clinical instructor, said students have made a meaningful impact on the care and education of residents at Love Towers.
“The health disparities many of the residents face are quite extensive. Many do not have cars; therefore, getting out to see a health care provider is difficult,” said Brown. “Having our students on site to check blood pressures provides an additional opportunity for the residents’ education regarding their other health care needs.”
Love Towers provides a safe, comfortable community, and formerly featured social activities and special events for a vibrant lifestyle. The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on the residents as the community of social events quickly became a place of isolation.
“There was a particular resident that told us lots of stories about Love Towers Halloween parties and the costume contests they used to host. She always took the contest very seriously because she wanted to win, so she made her own costumes every year. I loved listening to the stories she would tell every week,” Paris said.
At the end of the fall semester, residents at Love Towers shared how much the group’s time meant to them.
“Just getting to talk to us for those 30 minutes made their weeks so much better. The residents even gave our volunteer group a nickname—the Four Musketeers,” Paris said. “It really touched me that my time with them made such an impact on their lives, and it made leaving for winter break so much harder. The smiles on their faces when we walked in on Wednesdays were truly priceless.”
The Academic Service–Learning program currently collaborates with 54 community partners in Knoxville and surrounding areas. It is projected that students will contribute 16,000 hours of service this year through the program.
“This whole experience has allowed me to explore possibilities of working in specialties such as mental health and geriatrics in the future. It has also made me appreciate the area in which I go to school. Serving the Knoxville community and Love Towers has made me even more excited to be a nurse one day.”
This spring the volunteer group is planning to hold socially distant exercise and educational sessions about healthier habits for the residents at Love Towers. Paris will continue to serve at Love Towers until she graduates in May 2022.
Kara Clark (865-974-9498, firstname.lastname@example.org)