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Innovative New Course Brings Nursing Students into Patients’ Homes

October 23, 2023

By Chris Becker

The University of Houston Andy and Barbara Gessner College of Nursing partnered with Humana’s CenterWell Home Health to offer an innovative and forward-thinking elective to its nursing students. The Preventative and Restorative Nursing Care elective introduces undergraduate students to the concept, challenges, and benefits of home health nursing.

“We need nurses well versed in taking care of patients in their homes,” said Kathy Driscoll, chief nursing officer at Humana. “Focusing the elective on home health and acknowledging the shift from hospital to care in the home, we are helping nursing students to prepare for that shift and feel ready to practice in this type of environment.”

The home setting is a vastly different environment from the hospital setting. While each space in a hospital is organized according to the needs of the patient and the treatment they receive by physicians, nurses, and other staff, the home is a patient’s personal space.

“Home health as a practice setting can be intimidating to new nurses because they are alone in someone’s home,” said Driscoll, adding that “this level of independence also means autonomy and the opportunity to see the environment where the patient lives and allow that to inform the care plan and goals for the patient, in addition to their health needs.”

During the two-week elective, students practiced care in the college’s interactive simulation lab, as well as visited patients in their homes. In the first week, the lab modeled three different spaces, each designed to look like a person’s home with actors and high-fidelity mannequins taking on the roles of patients.  In the second week, students paired up with nurses from Humana’s CenterWell Home Health to deliver care to around 30 patients in their homes. The students said the experience was profound, and within this short two-week period, they felt they had made a positive impact on the lives of these homebound patients and better understood the role of home health.

“We want our students to experience a wide variety of clinical settings,” said Kathryn Tart, professor and founding dean of the college. “The home is a clinical setting.”

The students and their home-health nurse preceptors visited patients in Katy and in League City. Each home health visit included:

  • Physical assessments
  • Environmental assessments
  • Skilled nursing care
  • Referrals if necessary for safety, family dynamics, financial insecurity, nutrition, medication reconciliation and patient education
  • Follow-up appointments for the next home health care visit

“I don’t know of any other nursing program in the greater Houston area that’s doing this,” said Tart. “This is not a typical part of what a nursing curriculum looks like.”

But this will most likely change soon. In 2021, American Association of Colleges of Nursing published The Essentials: Core Competencies for Professional Nursing Education and included home care as a core competency. As more patients and providers opt for care in the home, the Gessner College of Nursing wants to ensure home care is a part of their curriculum.

“With home health, you can make a tremendous difference in people’s lives and help them to be their fullest and healthiest self,” said Tart. “That’s what we love doing as nurses.”

Efforts like these can be intrinsically rewarding for current practicing nurses, allowing them the opportunity to influence and support nursing students as they prepare to be part of the most caring profession, and as Driscoll said, “hopefully inspire them to choose home health as their practice setting.”

The Gessner College of Nursing is housed on the UH at Sugar Land and Katy instructional sites and the UH main campus.

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