“This experience made me have many different emotions. I felt warmth, sadness, and a sense of pride and accomplishment by helping the ones who cannot help themselves,” said one student taking medical assistant classes, after completing a recent service learning project.
The medical assistant students in the Patient Care Sciences 1 class at Globe University-Wausau, decided to do a wheelchair, walker and cane clean-up and Christmas decorating project. The students spent three hours at the Cedar Ridge Elder Services in Weston. The project consisted of shining up residents’ wheelchairs, walkers and canes, then decorating the equipment for the holidays.
“I think doing this project was a great idea because it gives us the opportunity to give back to our community and also gain knowledge from the experience and the residents,” Mahad Jama, medical assistant student, wrote in his reflection paper following the event. “It also prepares us for our career choice because it allows us to get out of the classroom and although there were no medical procedures performed we got to interact with potential future patients.”
The students were able to interact with the residents as they diligently worked at scrubbing the wheelchairs and walkers. Most of the residents were thrilled to have their wheelchairs and walkers decorated for the holiday and commented on how nice it was to have the students there chatting and talking with them.
Cedar Ridge Elder Services has four houses with residents ranging from early-onset Alzheimer’s to latent stages of dementia. Some of the residents were there strictly for the assisted living portion of the services. The students commented on the compassion of the staff and the overall warmth and comfort of the living facility.
The students’ biggest challenges came when trying to interact with residents in late stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s. One student commented that it was sad to see a particular resident could not distinguish between time and place and kept discussing second and third grade, but was able to sing and remember all the words to songs he had known as a child.
The students met a former Air Force pilot and were able to hear stories of the days he flew F-150’s. The visits with these residents seems to have left lasting impressions on students.
“In our visit to Cedar Ridge, I met some people that I will remember forever,” said Brooke Moore, medical assistant degree student.
The idea for this service learning project came about while listening to one student recount some aspects of working in an assisted living facility. Nicholle Kesselring is a nursing assistant at Cedar Ridge and did a recent presentation in class on Alzheimer’s disease. This led to contacting the facility and asking about cleaning up and decorating wheelchairs and walkers. The facility owner thought this would be an excellent idea and felt the residents would really enjoy their wheelchairs and walkers being spruced up.
Based on the reflection papers the students were required to write regarding this experience, it was evident that this was a wonderful learning experience and will be used as a service learning project again in the future.
One student’s observation of the relationship with the residents and staff held a great impact. “…you can see a deep connection as though they were family. I enjoyed being a part of their family even if it was just for two hours,” she said.
As an instructor we are always trying to find new ways to incorporate service learning into our curriculum. The Patient Care Sciences class guides students from pediatric through elder care in a clinic setting. The students learn the basics of being able to room patients, take vital signs and most importantly how to interact with patients. This project forced the students to communicate with the elderly residents while performing a kind gesture.
“What I gained was that the small things matter,” Kesselring reflected. “We cleaned several wheelchairs and walkers and we put a smile on everyone’s face we came across. Everyone needs a friend, everyone needs someone to talk to and everyone in return needs someone to listen. This is the most important thing we gave to the residents at Cedar Ridge Elder Services.”
Written by Kerry Miller-Mouzon, Medical Assistant Faculty, Globe University-Wausau