UNC students practice drawing blood during a specialized phlebotomy class.
A UNC Nursing professor who set up a program for students to gain real-world experience and hone their professional skills by volunteering at local health fairs used her connections and creativity to keep the program going after the fairs changed their requirements for volunteers performing blood draws.
Deborah Rojas came to UNC six years ago from College America, a technical college in Fort Collins, where she coordinated volunteers from the nursing program to volunteer at local 9Health Fairs sponsored by KUSA-TV.
When she told her classes at UNC about volunteering at the health fairs, several students seemed interested, and Rojas took eight students to a fair, however many of them had never drawn blood before.
"They just hadn't had the opportunity to practice phlebotomy," Rojas said. "We paired one UNC student with an experienced student from College America, and they acted as mentors to each student throughout the day."
Following that first year, 9Health Fair officials changed the requirements for volunteer nursing students; a minimum of 25 successful, documented blood draws was required of each student who wished to participate.
"I went back to my friend at the technical college and asked her if she would be willing to do a phlebotomy class for UNC students," Rojas said. "It was different for our students because they had already taken anatomy, along with several other nursing courses. All the students needed was an opportunity practice."
Rojas and her colleague condensed a 40-hour phlebotomy course into a 12-hour course taught at College America, giving students with no experience the chance to practice phlebotomy and meet the minimum number of blood draws required to volunteer at the health fair.
Thirteen UNC students took advantage of the first condensed phlebotomy course and volunteered at that year's health fairs. The year after, 60 students took the class. This year, 110 students took the class and worked at the health fairs.
Teresa Vanderford, a senior Nursing major, first heard about the health fairs in one of Rojas' courses and has volunteered at the 9Health Fair in Mead the past two years.
"Many of the people who come to these fairs are underinsured or uninsured," said Vanderford. "I enjoy being able to help them, and I enjoy working with so many people throughout the community."
Building good rapport with patients is key, especially in an environment where volunteers may only have 20-30 seconds to do so.
"At the health fairs, you see a wide spectrum of people; some people are terrified and others are casual and calm," said Todd Bohling, a junior Nursing major. "We have to pick up where a person is mentally and align our attitude with their needs in order to make them as comfortable as possible."
The health fairs not only build confidence in nursing students, they also provide the opportunity to enhance communication skills with patients, network with local health professionals and help students see themselves as part of a bigger picture.
"They don't go into the fairs as UNC students, they are community volunteers," said Rojas. "When the participants - the people who come get their blood drawn - don't see them as students, they talk to them is if they are already health professionals."
The last fair in northern Colorado this year is from 7 a.m.-noon Saturday, May 5, at the Library's Children's Room in Red Feather Lakes. For a list of tests and screenings offered thorough the health fair and to see how to register, go to the 9Health Fair website. http://www.9healthfair.org/find/screenings.aspx.
- Katie Owston, junior Journalism major