So you are getting ready to graduate from college with a nursing degree, and you want to get a flavor for what nursing, during an emergency or disaster situation, is really like. But your problem is that you don't know where to look for that experience without traveling to an actual disaster site. What's the answer?
Well, if you were one of almost 30 senior nursing students from William Rainey Harper College, you would partner up with your local Emergency Management Agency. And that is exactly what the students did Saturday, April 6, in the Palatine Emergency Management Agency's Emergency Operations Center.
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"Mass Casualty Events in the Field" gave the students a chance to experience what it may be like in the aftermath of a tornado, earthquake or other mass casualty event.
Project director, Linda Kielas an RN and volunteer with the Palatine Emergency Management Agency, Palatine Medical Reserve Corps, explained that when she was first deployed to a disaster situation, she was not prepared for the difference in nursing she experienced from working a busy hospital emergency room.
"The purpose of this program was to expose the student nurses to some of the concepts of disaster management with a focus on mass casualty incidents so they will be better prepared than I was," said Kielas, who is also an Illinois Professional Emergency Manager. "The goal was to provide and reinforce response skills to promote life safety and mitigate morbidity and mortality. This training is difficult to simulate in a classroom only setting."
Students received training in the areas of disaster response: how an individual's preparations can enhance effectiveness; the basic tenants of disaster organization and individual responsibilities as a member of a response team; search and rescue pitfalls; field triage process; appropriate responses to the victim and responder stress behavior; and finally, the students experienced the response challenge during a simulated disaster exercise.
"The culmination of the training was where we actually subjected the students to a simulated disaster scene with multiple victims that have been moulaged with lifelike injuries," said Tom Smith, the Palatine Emergency Management coordinator and also an IPEM. "Even though the students knew that this was not a real event and the injuries are not real, everyone's heart rate spiked and they felt real stress."
This training opportunity was conducted by volunteer members of PEMA, many of them members of the Palatine Medical Reserve Corps who have been providing Community Emergency Response Team training to area residents for the past 10 years. Palatine continues to offer the free FEMA CERT training four times a year for residents and Palatine businesses.
These medical and nonmedical volunteers have been specially trained not only to instruct, but also to respond to local incidents. The volunteers train regularly and have responded to local events and provided first aid to responders and community members, staffed positions with the Palatine Fire Rehab Team and assisted with immunizations during the H1N1 emergency.
"It is hoped that this opportunity has opened the door to work more closely with the nursing students in order to enhance their understanding of the role of the medical volunteer in a local disaster," said PMRC Leader Linda Trilling. "We learned during Katrina that utilizing volunteers of any sort who did not understand disaster response, organization, triage and treatment, proved to be a detriment to the success of a medical response."
"Our partnership with the Palatine Medical Reserve Corps provided a great educational experience for the nursing students at Harper College," said Jennifer E. Smith, assistant professor of nursing at Harper said, "As nurses, we are often expected to be resources to our communities about vital health promotion topics."
Smith added, "Emergency preparedness training is important for every nurse, no matter whether we work in the acute care setting like a hospital, or out in the community like home care, school nursing, public health departments and other areas."
More of Harper's senior nursing students will train in the fall.
For information about this training or the Palatine Emergency Management Agency please contact EMA Coordinator Tom Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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