ASU nursing students partner with Special Olympics of Arizona for inclusive health fair

By

Amanda Goodman

It’s the Friday before spring break and tucked down the bustling hallway of the Sun Devil Fitness Complex are more than a dozen students from Arizona State University's College of Nursing and Health Innovation hard at work.

The group, led by Clinical Professor Cheryl Schmidt, is immersed in the health fair they put together for the Special Olympics of Arizona’s 2019 state basketball and cheer competition, which was being held at ASU for the first time.

“We have 20 nursing students and three faculty here volunteering their time; none of them are getting class credit for this, and they’re doing it just before spring break. It’s great to see this,” Schmidt said.

As soon as the athletes enter the room, they’re greeted before making their way through several interactive stations that all serve a specific health promotion purpose. The activities and information are focused around four main pillars of wellness: emotional, nutritional, physical and social.

“I like it! I’m bringing more people from my team to do the activities,” Frances Taylor said.

Taylor, 47, is from Tucson, and it’s her third year competing in the statewide tournament. Not surprisingly, her favorite stop at the health fair had to do with physical wellness; she’s a basketball player, after all.

“I like doing the exercise. You have to roll the dice and see what exercise you get, then roll the other dice and see how many you have to do,” Taylor said.

As part of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing curriculum, students are required to organize and host at least one community health fair. That experience proved extremely helpful when it came time to put together this event. 

“The nursing students themselves really took the lead on it. So we talked about topics and activities that we wanted to do, and then they’ve been the manpower behind it and I just helped bring in the equipment,” said Amanda Metcalf, Special Olympics of Arizona health programs manager.

, Senior BSN student

Kieley Hicks

Senior Bachelor of Science in Nursing student Kieley Hicks worked with Special Olympics for a class project in the past. It was an experience she really enjoyed, so she was more than happy to take on the student leadership role to recruit for this event and help plan it.

“It was actually very easy; we got a ton of volunteers right away and from younger students too,” Hicks said.

Through the process of planning the fair, the student volunteers also got a lesson on inclusive health from Metcalf and her team.

“It’s a movement of making sure people with or without disabilities are getting the same opportunity and access to health care and treatment and also making sure current providers and future providers, like the student nurses here, are welcoming our athletes into their clinics,” Metcalf said.

This was the first time many of the nursing students have worked with individuals who have intellectual disabilities, but it will likely not be their last.

“Learning how to interact with different populations is going to be beneficial for me in the clinical setting because we’re going to have a whole diverse set of patients that we’ll be working with and we have to be able to communicate accurately with everyone,” said senior Bachelor of Science in Nursing student Randy Wagman.  

In addition to learning about diverse populations, this is also a chance for these future nurses to interact with people who are healthy and athletic. Schmidt says students in the nursing program spend a lot of time in acute care settings where the focus is on illness and treatment.

For Hicks, the chance to step outside of the hospital through volunteer opportunities like this is a welcome change of pace.

“I really like working in the community setting a lot because we can focus more on the preventative measures and just educating people on how to be healthy so that way they don’t get to the point where they have to go to the hospital. So it's awesome to see them at their healthy states and how we can keep pushing to keep them at their best,” Hicks said.

While the students are running the show, help is close by. Schmidt, who has been a nurse educator for decades, works along with two other faculty members, Debra Hagler and Kim Day, to keep an eye on things. But they keep their distance unless needed.

“We’re watching. When the students are doing blood pressures, the board of nursing requires pre-licensure, non-RNs to have a faculty member available if someone has an abnormal reading. If that happens, we’ll check it again and if it's still high we might refer them down the hall (to the physician) or recommend they go see their care provider,” Schmidt said.

Overall the fair was a hit. Not only was the nursing student participation on point but the athlete turnout was pretty spectacular as well, much better Metcalf says than in years past.

Learn more about volunteer opportunities with Special Olympics Arizona.