CAMDEN — For about three years now, the Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden has benefited from a federal grant that allows its students to get out in their surrounding community and assist in improving health outcomes for a diverse population of elderly city residents.

Rutgers-Camden is a subrecipient of this grant originally awarded to the Rowan School of Osteopathic Medicine by the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Rutgers and Rowan faculty, including clinical assistant professor Margaret Avallone, have since collaborated on a threefold plan: to provide services and resources to those in desperate need, to impact the community in a positive and productive way, and to garner learning experiences with an eye toward future nursing careers.

In fact, Avallone said this is the first time many students (almost all senior-level in this program) have worked in a team environment in healthcare, which specifically prepares them to work in teams of physicians, pharmacists, and the like when they graduate.

The students are focusing right now on Northgate II, a low-income high-rise in Camden that was selected because it has a dedicated social work department, a resource that many similar dwellings in New Jersey don't have. The ethnically diverse population — for instance, 65% Hispanic, according to Avallone — may not all enjoy equal access to healthcare and health education.

Yet, these residents have been identified as "very high" users of healthcare resources, Avallone said, because some are disabled, have chronic needs, or require frequent hospital readmission.

"It's a really beneficial partnership because our students know the nursing side of it, but they don't know the social work side of it," Avallone said.

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As the population of the United States generally skews older and ever more diverse, nursing schools have had to concentrate on preparing their graduates to serve all different kinds of communities. So it is more important than ever, in Avallone's view, to determine what matters most to patients. Do they want to stay in their homes? Would they like services to come to them? What about family members? Do they need help with pain management? Are they taking the right kinds of medication? And are they as mobile as they can be?

For the students, what Avallone hopes they get out of working with the residents of Northgate II is a sense of community experience gained through curriculum.

"This particular experience really requires a student who is really pulling together all of their critical thinking," she said.

Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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