Students gain primary care experience working in medically underserved communities during COVID-19
By Taylor Utzig
While many hospital-based student nurse fellowships were cancelled this summer due to COVID-19, Loyola University Chicago’s Primary Care Summer Fellowship was one exception. With the help of the fellowship’s clinical partners, Loyola Nursing placed eight undergraduate students in primary care units from early June to the beginning of August.
“The placement of our fellows this past summer is a testament to our partnership with ACCESS Community Health Network and Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital,” says Ann Solari-Twadell, director of Loyola Nursing’s Primary Care Community Health Nursing Scholar (PCCHNS) program, which sponsors the fellowship. “Staff at these two sites worked very hard to ensure the fellows had excellent experiences.”
Emily Collick poses with a COVID-19 testing sign for ACCESS Community Health Clinic.
During the fellowship, students participate in an intensive clinical experience, where they learn how to coordinate care for individuals and families from medically underserved communities. For Loyola Nursing senior Abby Disher, the ability to work with patients from these communities was the main reason she applied for the program. “I experienced a privileged upbringing because I had a primary care doctor nearby, transportation to get to the doctor’s office, and the means to pay for my health care,” she says. “I recognize not everyone has equal access to care, and I wanted to use my education to improve others’ health outcomes.”
Disher worked with patients at ACCESS Community Health’s Federally Qualified Health Centers, which had been transformed into COVID-19 testing sites. “It was eye-opening to see firsthand how the pandemic has challenged these patients; how it has affected their jobs and living arrangements,” says Madelyn Taylor, who also interned at ACCESS alongside Disher and Emily Collick from Loyola, as well as Maggie Barton from Saint Louis University.
While the four other fellows did not work in COVID-19 testing sites, their experience at Hines VA left a similar, lasting impact. “I found it very rewarding to work with veterans at Hines VA,” says Loyola Nursing senior James Dao. “To help provide quality, holistic care for a population that is sometimes neglected by society was inspiring. In fact, it has influenced me to pursue a position at a veteran's hospital in my career.”
During a global crisis, when health care is under increasing pressure, ;providing these opportunities to nursing students is essential. “You never know when a global pandemic will hit,” says Collick. “I learned this summer that it’s critically important to learn how to adapt. You must be able to think of innovative ways to provide care while keeping the patient and yourself safe.”
And like the lesson Collick learned, Loyola continues to find new ways to adapt and ensure students can participate in one-of-a-kind clinical experiences like the Primary Care Summer Fellowship, even during a once-in-a century pandemic.
“This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.”