Campus & Community

Students work with Alzheimer’s patients in award-winning partnership

Students in Palm Beach State College’s Practical Nursing and Patient Care Assistant programs are gaining invaluable experience with Alzheimer’s patients as part of an award-winning partnership with Alzheimer’s Community Care, Florida’s largest provider of community-based, dementia-specific services.

Dr. Raywattie Sooklall at Mutual of America luncheon
Dr. Raywattie Sooklall with Ted Herman, Vice Chairman of the Mutual of America Foundation, at the Feb. 24 Community Partnership Award luncheon

Today Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 5 million Americans, and by 2050, the number could be as high as 16 million. Meanwhile, a critical shortage of nurses and long-term care workers with dementia-specific training is already a concern.

Alzheimer’s Community Care, which provides a variety of free and low-cost patient and caregiver services in Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties, took action by creating the Dementia-Specific Practicum for its Nursing Student program. To date, nearly 200 undergraduate nursing students have participated, including 78 from PBSC. The students receive instruction, but most significantly, they get direct experience, delivering hands-on patient care at one of the organization’s 10 specialized adult day care centers. The centers provide a caring environment tailored to patient needs, while giving family members relief during the day.

Last month the Dementia-Specific Practicum for Nursing Student Program was named a Merit Finalist Award recipient in the Mutual of America 2015 Community Partnership Award competition. Now in its 20th year, the annual competition recognizes nonprofit organizations that build better communities through innovative public/private partnerships. As one of 10 finalists, Alzheimer’s Community Care was chosen from hundreds of entries nationwide and received a monetary award. Palm Beach State College also was recognized, along with the other partnering schools: Palm Beach Atlantic University, Florida Atlantic University, Keiser University and Indian River State College.

Dr. Raywattie Sooklall, assistant nursing director at PBSC, was presented with an individual Community Partnership Award for her role in spearheading PBSC’s involvement and getting the RN-BSN program at PBSC on board as well as collaborating with other schools.

“We may teach about Alzheimer’s and dementia, but we can’t make it real for our students unless they see it in a clinical setting,” says Sooklall. “When Alzheimer’s Community Care approached me about rotating my students through their day care centers, I made it work, because I wasn’t going to lose this opportunity for my students. We deal with a large population of patients who have altered cognition, so regardless of the care setting students eventually work in, they are going to be better prepared because of this experience.”

By all accounts, the students love it. “They enjoy working with the nurses and staff and helping patients take part in many therapeutic exercises and activities,” Sooklall adds. “We have students there on a weekly basis. It is ongoing. In fact, some participants have landed jobs at the centers.”

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