By Marlena E. Bermel

Care Calls

UNM Nursing Students Provide a Compassionate Connection Over the Phone

Compassionate care is at the heart of nursing, whether provided in person or by other means. 

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Office for Community Heath, in partnership with the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department, teamed up to help those in need. Students from academic units across the Health Sciences campus volunteered to make phone calls to older adults and those with disabilities to connect them with support services.

College of Nursing faculty members Loren Kelly, MSN, RN, and LeeAnna Vargas, MSN, RN, created an online Care Calls center for nursing students to participate. Nursing students who made calls found the biggest impact they had was in making human contact. 

care-calls-east.jpgApproximately 3,000 calls have been made by nursing students, helping to clear a backlog of requests for service from the Aging and Long-Term Services Department.

“The ones that stick that in my mind were older people who were isolated and very lonely,” says Melanie East, a nursing student at UNM Main Campus. “A call that is supposed to last 20 minutes lasted over an hour.” 

East started out as a teacher, but was drawn to nursing. Her experience in education helped her building trust and practice therapeutic listening. “You have to establish a relationship with someone you don’t know and can’t see,” she says. Participating in the calls helped her hone those skills.

The call center allowed nursing students to meet requirements for clinical hours despite COVID restrictions. This initiative helped students learn about the impact of social determinants of health through direct contact with those in need.

care-calls-spencer.jpgFor Fern Spencer, a nursing student at UNM Gallup, the experience was a little closer to home. “I’m from the Navajo Nation,” Spencer says. “I was able to reach out to a Navajo grandmother and really connected to the person on the other end of the phone.”  Spencer plans to specialize in wound care and work in an Indian Health Service medical center after graduation. 

Starting with just a few participating nursing students in the second half of spring 2020 and summer 2020, the program then expanded in the fall to include all Level 4 nursing students at Main Campus and UNM Gallup. The College now plans to invite nursing programs across the state to participate, using the UNM College of Nursing Call Center as a model of how this project can be applied to clinical experience.

Categories: College of Nursing, Education