By Quincey Taylor
Each spring semester, a group of twelve nursing students participates in the At-Risk section of the public and global health nursing course practicum. Led by associate teaching professor, Dr. Peggy Anderson, these students are actively involved in helping give treatment to vulnerable populations, including incarcerated individuals. It is always an eye-opening experience for the students as they let go of their previously conceived notions and biases about these populations.
Anderson is passionate about the At-Risk program, having led it for about 14 years. It all started back when she was called to be the Relief Society president for a group of women at a Utah prison. Even though she was not sure what to expect in the beginning, she grew to love the position and the insights it brought. She comments, “It was an incredibly spiritual experience. I remember walking through the security doors that first day and just having this distinct impression that I had been prepared, both educationally and through my unique life experiences to serve in that capacity. I absolutely loved it.”
Later, Anderson was able to spearhead the At-Risk program, which involves the BYU nursing students in helping these vulnerable populations as their practicum during the spring semester. This group of students work with a broad audience of individuals, including those with chronic disease processes, incarcerated populations, children with special healthcare needs, and children who have been victims of violent crime. Nursing students are assigned a facility, helped on their first day by Anderson to establish themselves, and then they are largely left on their own to perform their duties for the following weeks. Students are given the opportunity to interact with these diverse individuals and forget some of their previous bias. As modern-day good Samaritans, they learn to look on each individual in need the same way the Savior would.
Nursing is a special occupation because it does not turn off when you leave the hospital. A nurse is always a nurse, and the At-Risk program shows students their obligation to help others to their best ability at every opportunity. Anderson states, “Nursing it isn’t a nine-to-five job. Everywhere you go, you take nursing with you. You practice nursing wherever you are, including your interactions with others. If a neighbor calls you in the middle of the night, you are still a nurse.” By participating in the At-Risk program, Anderson hopes students will create a ripple effect of service that will continue into their professional careers.
Participants also get the opportunity to attend the Children’s Justice Symposium, which is put on by the Children’s Justice Centers and the Attorney General’s Office every year. The students network with other members of the community that are working to fulfill these same needs. They learn a lot about advocacy and teamwork, as well as how a community pulls together to meet the needs of its vulnerable populations.
One of the participating students commented on the 2018 experience, “At-Risk has influenced my outlook on advocacy and creating social change. I now recognize that all people deserve a chance to prove themselves and I will do my best to treat everyone equally…. These have been great learning opportunities for me that Heavenly Father needed me to experience so that I would change for the better. I recognize that I have been placed in these situations for a reason and Heavenly Father wants me to learn from them. I have truly learned about the Healer’s art this semester and how He incorporates Himself into the medical field. He does it through many ways. But most importantly for me to recognize, He incorporates Himself through me.”
Anderson is excited to take her next group of students, and to see the change this rewarding experience inspires in each individual. She is a firm believer that “every student that comes with me during spring semester is there for a reason” and that “the Lord knows who each one of us is, no matter where we are in life. He truly cares about the very details of our lives.”