By Jonathan Schroeder
Fourth-semester BYU nursing student Jeana Escobar has never been afraid to take initiative. At the age of 16, Escobar performed her first surgical operation after her dog developed a tumor on the scruff of his neck. Before her parents could stop her, Escobar went to her dad’s tool bench, found some sharp tools, and took the tumor out herself (much to her parent’s dismay and the vet’s amazement). Now years later, Escobar’s initiative has led her to a new project – a unique mentored learning opportunity developing a post-fall assessment tool for nursing homes.
It all started during a class lecture in Escobar’s second-semester gerontology course. Assistant teaching professor Dr. Blaine Winters paused to mention that he was interested in writing a paper on post-fall assessments.
“Whenever a patient falls in a medical setting, you need to do a thorough assessment to make sure they’re OK before you put them back into bed,” Escobar says. “But oftentimes in a long-term care facility, the person who finds the patient doesn’t have the proper training to conduct those assessments.”
Winters explained that in older adults, injuries often take longer to manifest than in younger patients. “He talked about how if you or I fall and bump our elbow, we’ll have a bruise almost immediately,” Escobar says. “But in older adults, bruises can take a day or more to manifest.”
It was little more than a brief tangent to the lecture. Most students probably didn’t even take notice of it. Escobar, on the other hand, was already getting excited about the possibilities.
“In high school, my teacher always talked about the importance of getting involved in your discipline during college. It really is the best time because you have time and you have plenty of opportunities to interact with professors. Really, the only thing holding you back is yourself. So when I heard Blaine mention this paper, I knew I needed to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Within a few weeks, Escobar was hired on as research assistant and began meeting with Winters and assistant teaching professor Tracy Dustin. Together, the three of them sifted through dozens of studies and academic articles for information on post-fall assessments. Much to their surprise, they were only able to find four articles written on the subject over the past two decades. The team then came to a decision that none of them had originally anticipated. Instead of writing a paper, they would develop a standardized post-fall assessment tool.
The post-fall assessment tool is a procedure that long-term care facility staff can follow to ensure that patients receive the care they need. It’s based off of advanced trauma life-support (ATLS) procedures, as well as other important post-trauma assessments. The idea is that long-term care facility staff will be able to follow this procedure to provide better care for their patients.
And while some college research opportunities may seem like busy work, Escobar says she’s enjoyed being fully involved in this project.
“Blaine and Tracy are so supportive,” Escobar explains. “They make me feel like I’m an equal member of the team. I don’t feel like it’s their project and I’m just a footnote somewhere, helping him file papers. I’m really equally involved with them and that they value my input.”
Now that the tool has been developed, Escobar, Winters, and Dustin are working with the College of Nursing Media Team to create several training videos that will explain the tool to long-term care facility personnel. The hope is that, together with the tool, these videos will help staff provide better care for their patients.
“It’s been so exciting to see this tool come together,” Escobar says. “When Blaine mentioned he wanted to write a paper in class, it was almost like a passing thought. Now we’ve created this tool and we’re getting ready to create the training videos so we can test it out. I’ve loved seeing just how if you have an idea and you just put your best effort into it, it can really come alive.”
When asked what this project meant to her BYU experience, Escobar expressed how grateful she was for the chance to be involved and contribute to the nursing discipline. She also found that this project helped her rediscover her passion for gerontology.
“I always knew I liked gerontology; I think older adults are amazing. But participating in this project helped me see that not only do I like them, but I have a passion for their well-being and improving the quality of care that they receive.”
Even though she still has a year left in the nursing program, Escobar has already started looking at graduate programs that specialize in adult critical care and gerontology.
“When opportunities are presented to you, you just need to go for it,” Escobar advises other students seeking mentored learning opportunities. “If there’s something you’re interested in, even if you’re just curious about it, you should go talk to the professor and see what you can get involved in. If they don’t have any projects, tell them something you’re interested in and more than likely they’d be happy to work with you. But you’ll never know until you ask.”
The post-fall assessment training videos are scheduled to be introduced at several long-term care facilities in the Utah Valley sometime this summer. Escobar, Winters, and Dustin plan to present their findings on the effect of the training video at the Utah Nurses Association Conference in September 2018.