Arriving at the University Center at 6:15 a.m. on a Sunday may seem outrageous to the average college student, but for more than 130 University of Northern Colorado students, it was the beginning of a day of opportunities.
They were there on April 28 to help staff the first 9Health Fair ever hosted by UNC. Community members of all ages and backgrounds were welcomed into the University Center for a variety of free and low-cost health screenings that included blood draws and analysis, Pap testing, mammograms, dental exams, dermatology screening and more.
The fair presents unique opportunities particularly for Nursing students, who are able to administer many of the screenings.
But involvement in the fair wasn't limited to them. Although the Student Nurses Association played a large part in the event, the Business Marketing Club, the College of Natural Health Sciences, the Sports and Exercise Science Department and Student Senate were also integral to the success of the fair. Non-medical student volunteers helped with set-up, checked in attendees and acted as "ambassadors" who guided attendees to the appropriate screening stations.
Deborah Rojas, assistant professor of Nursing at UNC and site coordinator for the UNC 9Health Fair, started encouraging her students to volunteer at health fairs long before she was able to bring the fair to campus.
Working with a former colleague at College America, Rojas again this year coordinated a condensed phlebotomy course so students could be certified to draw blood at the fair, which requires having performed 25 documented "sticks" (blood draws).
Nursing students who participated in the fair said that it wasn't the blood drawing but the interaction with community members that was the most interesting part of their experience.
"That's the best part," said senior Ashley Larson. "It's being engaged in the community and being part of starting a new tradition for UNC."
In brief moment between blood draws, Ann Burr, another student volunteer from the Nursing program, said her interactions with patients had been almost entirely positive.
"People are really nice - surprisingly, since they've been fasting and waiting so long," Burr said.
Coordinating the many volunteers was no small job, especially because the majority of the UNC fair's coordinators wee students. Rojas said the experience of organizing the fair is just as important as learning how to draw blood.
"The thing that draws the students is that, of course, they get to give shots and draw blood," Rojas said. "But it is important to be able to manage and plan healthcare administration as well. That's a large part of what it means to be a nurse."
Rojas said the support from the university, the community and all the organizations that were involved was the primary reason the fair went as well as it did. But Rojas and Don Alvarez, a senior Nursing major and medical coordinator at this year's fair, are already planning to make next year's 9Health Fair even bigger and better.
"We're looking to start planning next month," Alvarez said. "Seriously."
The "Next Year List," a small, already half-full notebook, contains ideas such as a day-care area for young children while their parents attend the fair, an exercise center featuring brief fitness routines and safe stretching techniques, and the possible expansion of the fair from one day to two.
Rojas said she's excited to expand the fair at UNC because she considers it part of what she does as a nurse. There is an entire culture of people who volunteer at and come to the health fairs and she wants students to have the opportunity to get involved in that culture.
Alvarez said he is equally eager to see growth and improvement in future 9Health Fairs at UNC.
"If you have a good idea, the right people, and you put it in the right place, it just goes," Alvarez said. "Every year it will be better."
The 9Health Fairs, sponsored by Denver's 9News television station, are the state's largest volunteer-driven annual health and education events, offering medical screenings that might otherwise be unavailable to many.
For more information about Colorado's 9Health Fair programs, visit: the fairs' website.
- Jaidree Braddix, Senior Journalism Major